Nov 23, 2016

Advent Traditions in the Large Family

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Here we are, the day before Thanksgiving, and just a few days away from the first Sunday in Advent! Are you ready? Do you have traditions that you do with your family each year? Or are you looking for ways to live the season that keep the focus on preparing a place for Christ, both in the form of the Baby Jesus and Christ the King whose return we await?

Advent in our home has evolved over the years. As a child, we had an Advent wreath but that was it. I don't remember a real emphasis on celebrating Advent as opposed to preparing for Christmas. So, the Advent wreath is where we started, with a little booklet of prayers and Scripture my mom put together for her religious education class of Kindergarten

When my older kids were very young and we were just starting out with homeschooling, I went to an Advent Seminar, led by exciting, faith-filled women. I still have many of the handouts they put in the purple folder, almost twenty years later!!! There were crafty talks (not my thing!) and spiritual talks. There was a husband and wife, parents of a large family, talking about praying together, just the two of them. My husband wasn't Catholic yet and the idea was so foreign but so appealing!

I left the seminar with a dozen ideas, and knew I had to pare it down. We bought a book about the Jesse Tree, with symbols to cut out. We bought a book with prayers and activities for children, which we still use today. A few years later, we learned about the O Antiphons and the Christmas novena.

Probably my biggest source of Advent inspiration is Elizabeth Foss , who blogs at In the Heart of My Home. Really, you should go there now! :-) Elizabeth prepared Advent lesson plans centered mostly around Tomie dePaola books, with lots of reading and crafting. Those books have become an integral part of our Advent traditions. And now, she has a lovely devotional ebook for moms, because in the busyness of trying to make sure our kids "get" the meaning and beauty of Advent, we moms can miss the opportunity, actually the need, to prepare our own hearts. So, when you are done here, make haste to Elizabeth's blog and search for "Comfort and Joy"!

So, here's is what our Advent looks like with kids aged twenty to three in the house:

Advent Wreath

We light and pray after dinner every night. We still read the simple devotions my mother wrote, and a little prayer from Advent for Children (not sure if it is still in print, but there are many good prayer books for Advent. We also have The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook, with prayers a little deeper for the older people at the table.

Jesse Tree

I still use our Jesse Tree paper ornaments from the Jesse Tree Kit. Again, I've had my resources for decades and they are harder to find, but several other good resources are out there. This one looks good: Jesse Tree Ornaments. We used to have a little fake tree to hang our ornaments on, but in recent years I have just drawn a big tree on butcher paper and hung it on the wall. The kids then tape the ornament for each day after reading the Scripture verse. We just go in order of age, each child getting a couple of chances each year to hang an ornament. 

Advent Calendar

We have a nice wooden Advent Calendar that has held up for years from Catholic Child. It has little compartments, each with a piece of a Nativity scene and they are magnetic.  Again, we take turns taking the piece out and putting it on the Nativity scene background. The littles enjoy moving the pieces around so it is not uncommon to see sheep floating in the sky! 

Nativity sets

We have several sets, a couple for the kids, including a Little People one that they just love and a peg doll set my daughter painted last year. I have "my" set that goes on the mantle and we have a huge Bethlehem village set that we put on the entertainment center. It's a little hard to see, but it's very tempting to little people and not sturdy enough to be played with. Someday, we will put it somewhere more visible!


During Advent, "schoolwork" takes a backseat and we just read and read. We have built up a library of both religious and some not so religious books, for many age levels. I've drawn heavily from Elizabeth Foss' recommendations. Each year, we read either Jotham's Journey, Tabitha's Travels, or Bartholemew's Passage. They are set in the days leading up to Christ's birth and are adventure stories that lead all the way to Bethlehem. There is a reading for each day. It keeps the children excited and interested, even after years of reading them!

Straw for the Baby Jesus

My favorite Advent activity! Way back, my oldest covered a shoe box with construction paper to be a crib for the Baby Jesus. We keep a ball of straw colored yarn next to the crib. When a child does a good deed (extra chore, helping a sibling, making a sacrifice), he or she puts a piece of straw in the manger. The goal is a comfy, warm bed for Baby Jesus! Such a great visual to encourage preparing our hearts!

St. Andrew Novena 

This is a prayer tradition that begins on Saint Andrew's feast November 30th and goes until Christmas Eve. It consists of praying the prayer fifteen times throughout the day. I have the prayer printed out and placed on the refrigerator. I also make it the wallpaper on my iPad, and I have a lovely chaplet with a St. Anthony medal on it from Loreto Rosaries.

Christmas Novena

This is a little more of a commitment, especially if you have all little children but we have managed it for sixteen years. We originally found it on a Knights of Columbus website, but you can find it here at Catholic Culture.  My husband typed it up assigning different sections to different children so everyone has a part. It begins on December 16th and incorporates the O Antiphons which start on the 17th.

O Antiphons

We have never made an O Antiphons house or ornaments, but we celebrate them through the novena and by singing the corresponding verse of O, Come Emmanuel each day, and on Christmas Eve we sing the whole song. Here is an article by Jennifer Miller explaining the significance of the Antiphons better than I can.

Advent is full of great feast days, too! But I will save those for another post just about the saints!

Lastly, here are some books I've enjoyed for myself over the years:
Advent and Christmas with Pope John Paul II
Behold, He Comes
Joy to the World, How Christ's Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does)

Wishing you all a blessed Advent!

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