I am excited to be a part of Beth Anne’s Advent Blog Hop! I love reading about the traditions Catholic families use to keep Christ in Christmas and today I’m sharing the activities we do. Some of these we’ve been doing for years and others we’ve just started.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is probably the most familiar and easiest of the Advent traditions and it remains a favorite of the kids. There is something special about turning down the lights and watching the flames flicker in the darkness.
In a perfect world, each night we gather around the Advent wreath, light the candle(s) and say our night prayers. However, it was hit and miss since evenings are hectic with homework, bathing, getting the boys to bed early, prep for the next morning, etc. Family evening prayer was just not happening. So Brian suggested we switch our prayer to before we say our dinner grace. It is the one time in the day when we are always all together at the same time. It has worked so much better!
The boys are eager to turn down the lights while Brian lights the candles and I read the reflection from Sarah Reinhard’s book Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families. (It only cost $1.99 at Amazon and $0.99 on Kindle). It has wonderful daily reflections that are simple enough for the kids to understand. Most days we use the reflection book. Other days when we have evening activities scheduled, Brian says a short spontaneous prayer. The main thing is that we are praying something together.
The Advent Calendar
After we say our Advent wreath prayer, the “person of the day” gets to open the next box in our Advent calendar. We started this tradition years ago as a way to combat the seasonal “gimmies” (give me this, give me that). To help bring the focus back on Christ and sharing his love with others, we started the tradition of making our Advent Calendar into an Act of Love Calendar. We explained that we can show our love for Jesus by sharing that love with others and what we do for others, we do for Our Lord.
A couple years back I found this little country house Advent calendar at Target and I loved it!
Normally you would put in a treat or little toy for each day but instead I put little slips of paper with different acts of love our family could do each day.
If an activity doesn’t suit our family or I have something else in mind, then I write my own act.
At dinner time, we each take a turn sharing something about our day. During Advent this will sometimes include sharing about our act of love. For example, Andrew shared how on the day he was supposed to help someone in need, he helped a classmate that fell down at recess and walked him to the school office to get a band aid.
Another time we had to be a peacemaker so I shared that instead of losing my temper and yelling at the kids, I first went into my room and screamed into my pillow, then came out of my bedroom and corrected the boys calmly. (They got a kick out of that one.) This sharing helps us to see how we can apply our faith into the daily fabric of our lives.
If you are looking for a nativity box, Target has some other cute ones. Amazon also has a pretty Wooden Nativity Advent Calendar with 24 Magnetic Figures. Or if you prefer a wall calendar there is the Traditional Nativity Advent Calendar Personalized Version or the cute Little People Nativity Advent Calendar. But you certainly don’t need to spend money on these fancy boxes!
For more details about how we use our Advent calendar and suggestions for making an inexpensive Advent chain instead, read my guest post over at Simple Life Messy Life.com.
A Letter to Baby Jesus (Instead of Santa)I posted earlier this week about this activity we added to our family this year. You can get all the details here but in a nutshell, a few years back, I asked some fellow Catholic moms how they keep Christ in Christmas. A friend shared with me how she has her kids write letters to Baby Jesus instead of Santa. I loved the idea.
The boys still believe in Santa and they wanted to write their wish lists but I liked the idea of a letter to Baby Jesus so I incorporated the two. I put together a simple form letter that I could print off and give everyone to fill out.
Before they can get to the wish list part, they first have to think about what they will give Baby Jesus as a gift.
Then they chose a person they would especially pray for during Advent.
When they were done, they folded up their letters and put them in their shoes for St. Nicholas to deliver to Baby Jesus. In the morning they found their letters gone and their treats instead.
If you’d like to print of a copy of the Letter to Baby Jesus for your little ones, I posted the PDF here. Also, I made a second version for those who don’t want the Santa aspect. It can be found here.
I have enjoyed using the Holy Heroes activities for Advent in the past and now, along with their daily activity emails, they have their worksheets in a book form.It has made it much easier to have all the worksheets already printed out and in one place!
For Bella and Andrew, there are a lot of various activities and puzzles they can do. For Matthew and John-Paul, they like to do the coloring pages. (They also like the Childhood of Jesus Coloring Book.) The Advent book also solved a problem I had with the next Advent tradition…
Filling Jesus’ Crib with Straw
Like the letter to Jesus, for years I’ve been wanting to do the activity of filling Baby Jesus’ crib with soft “straw.” Every time one of the kids completes their act of love or does some other sacrifice, they can put a piece of straw in Jesus’ crib. Or if I see someone doing their chores without complaint or sharing a toy with a sibling, I will tell them they they were acting very loving and they can put in a straw for Jesus. (It is the same concept as the sacrifice beans we did for Lent and that was a hit with the boys.)
I kept putting off starting the activity until I could buy a baby Jesus like the one we had growing up. Well, I have yet to buy one and thought I would just skip it again this year. But when I bought the Advent Adventures book, I was excited to see they had a paper version.
With some tape, scissors and yarn to cut up as straw…
We now have our Baby Jesus manger. (The book also comes with a paper Baby Jesus to cut out and place in the manger on Christmas morning.)
A Nativity Set for the Littles
Anyone with children knows that they are very hands on. They also know how their blood pressure rises every time their little one grabs the ceramic Mary or St. Joseph from the nativity set and starts running down the hallway with it. One of the best investments I ever made was purchasing the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set. They can be a bit pricey but it was worth it! A nativity scene that the kids can touch and move around makes life sooo much easier. Amazon has the Fisher Price deluxe models and the simple “To Go” Set.
A Birthday Party for Jesus
It is a family tradition that on each child’s birthday the dining room table is decorated with a birthday sign and stuffed animals to “greet” them when they wake up. Being Jesus’ birthday, it is only natural that it is celebrated in a similar fashion. Since Christ is the guest of honor (not Santa) our St. Nick plush holds Jesus’ birthday sign. I also place on the table the birthday cake we made for Jesus’ party.
On Christmas morning we all gather around the table that holds the empty manger. We place a large white candle in the center of the advent wreathe and light it. Mom or Dad (or an honored sibling) places the child Jesus in his manger and we sing Happy Birthday. Then the festivities begin.
The Spirit of Giving
Nothing invokes greediness quite as quickly as a materialistic holiday season. To help conquer this, it is helpful to keep kids (and adults) focused on the spirit of giving, especially those less fortunate. If you have older kids this can be done through working at a soup kitchen, food pantry, or visiting the elderly. This year Bella will be singing Christmas carols at a local Catholic convalescent home with her youth group.
Most parishes have programs where you pick a name or number and buy a gift for a specific child. Brian’s work also sponsors a local needy family so we have a number of choices. I make sure to pick a young boy that the boys will sponsor, a tween/teen girl for Bella and Brian and I will pick someone on the list that is often overlooked – an older boy or a single mom. The kids, including little ones, can do extra jobs and chores around the house to earn some extra money (or use their tithing money if they get an allowance) in order to buy small gifts for these needy children. Or they can help you buy canned good for the local food bank.
This is a great lesson in selflessness for the kids – a certain 5 year old of mine was shedding dramatic tears when he realized the skateboard we bought was going to little Jose and not him. Moreover, it is a lesson of real patience for me to let the kids get involved. I love buying gifts for people and making it special but it is another thing when you are walking down the grocery aisle with three opinionated little boys arguing over which items to purchase for the food baskets for the homeless. (Seriously?) It’s easy for me to say forget it and just do it myself but I need this lesson in sacrificial giving as much, if not more, as they do.
Plan Ahead for Charitable Gifts
I’ll admit that the extra gift giving can add up to a lot of extra money! Luckily, I have been looking for bargains throughout the year. Once a month during one of my many Target visits, I’ll check out the dollar section for various care package items. You can pick up small toiletries, snacks and hand warmers to give to military troops or the homeless or you can find coloring books, games, craft projects, socks etc to fit into a child’s care package. During off-season sales or Pre-Thanksgiving sales or Black Friday sales I find generic gifts like baby dolls or skateboards for the Angel Tree children. To help the kids understand sacrificing for others, we’ll give away some of their older toys to St. Vincent de Paul and as a family we’ll give up one of our “Pizza Nights” and eat sandwiches or leftovers instead. The money we saved goes towards buying gifts and food for others.
With a little creativity, planning and sacrifice, you can make your charitable gift giving more affordable for your family. (NOTE – If you are anything like me, you may also want to download the free printable from the post Keeping Track of Your Hidden Gifts from Orgjunkie.com. I wish I had that last year because I have two Christmas presents that I know I bought but I can’t figure out where I hid them! LOL)
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Sometimes when I read posts like this on other mom blogs I think, “Aw! Look at all that stuff they are doing! How come we don’t do things like that? Look at those eight kids in matching home-sewn outfits, kneeling reverently as they pray the rosary. And look at the gluten and dairy free Christmas recipe they followed using only fresh produce from their organic home garden. Sigh. I’m lucky I barely (fill-in-the-blank) let alone what they are doing…”
Yeah, none of that kind of talk is allowed here.
Truth be told, this looks great on paper but in real life it is messy and chaotic. We light the candles for our Advent prayer and two of the boys will be in laughing hysterically over one of their ill timed farts or they will be near blows because one brother blew out the candle when it was their turn. Most years the activities don’t start on the first day of Advent. For example, the baby crib to be filled with straw. I literally just put it together yesterday and it only had five straws in it so far. I added more so it wouldn’t look so skimpy for the photo.
Although we are all trying to be more loving, more generous and more patient this Advent, it is not an easy road. When Brian came home yesterday I was nearly in tears because days of stormy weather and having the boys cooped up in the house had them climbing up the walls. Matthew and John-Paul are two playful buddies but sometimes they reach a point where they are arguing over everything. No, really. Everything. The ridiculousness of it coupled with the noise and fighting becomes like nails on a chalkboard. I finally blew up at them and I yelled at them like I hadn’t yelled in a long time. It was not pretty. It made me feel hypocritical for writing this “happy” post today.
The point is that even thought we try to use these tools, it is not always roses and sunshine. We all fall short. That is when we turn to God (and confession) to give us the grace to pick ourselves back up. Then in between the realness there are moments when the kids “get it.” We see a loving gesture or a chore being done without being asked, a spontaneous act of love or a contrite apology (from child and mother). When we see in ourselves that the second time around we held our temper or that we turned off the radio to pray the rosary or that we finished all the laundry instead of checking Facebook, then we know progress is being made slowly but surely.
The other good thing about Advent is that is is four weeks long. It is never too late to start a new tradition or refocus our attitude in general. And if you are season of life right now that consists of just making it through the day in one piece, then store these ideas for the future and offer to God the little acts that pop up throughout your day. No need for elaborate activities. God knows your heart.
With those thoughts, I wish you a blessed second half of Advent! If things are going well, keep up the good work. You are an inspiration! And if things have not been going well, let’s work on this together and pray for one another.
Lastly, a big thank you to Beth Anne for including me in the Advent blog hop! Check out the other featured bloggers this week.
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