Sunday, November 27, 2016

10 Ways to Begin Advent

Happy Advent!

It’s that time of year again: time to celebrate the beginning of a new liturgical year and the end of the current calendar year.  It's time to wait with joyful anticipation for the coming of Christ - past, present and future.  It's time to prepare to celebrate the remembrance of Jesus coming to earth as a baby; time to continue readying ourselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist each week at Mass as well as through the grace He extends to us; and it's also time to ready our souls for a future meeting with Christ on a day none of us can know.  Indeed, it's time to embrace the season of Advent, and, then, the joys of Christmastide.

As such, for weeks now, I have been taking pockets of time here and there to piece together my family's life and learning plans for this year' Advent through Christmas seasons. I had hoped to have our plans ready in sharable form today, but - alas - do not.  Thus, rather than sharing our full plans right now, I am offering snippets of how we kicked off Advent instead, including highlights of what we have planned for the coming week.  That way, if you, like me, are not 100% prepared for this season of joyful anticipation, you may at least enjoy a bit of last-minute inspiration to embrace Advent however life is going right now.

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A Works of Mercy Christmas Countdown Chain

The children awoke to find our Advent Chain hanging up. 

They'd brainstormed ideas for it during our Christ the King day observances and busily written each of their ideas down on paper strips throughout the past week.  So, they were delighted to see the chain up and ready to go and, first thing this morning, my oldest took his first turn at pulling down a link, whereupon we all immediately paused our day to pray for unborn babies as that was the suggestion written on the link. 

Later in the day, since we'd completed the suggestion on the opened link, my oldest hung the link on our Jesse tree.  We took to doing that with our completed links last year and liked seeing the tree filling up, so we're doing the same thing this year.

A New Liturgical Year Celebration

Before heading off to Mass, where one child sang in the choir and another served on the altar, we celebrated the new liturgical year much the same as we have in the past by donning paper hats during a celebratory breakfast, chatting about what Advent and the liturgical year are, and, literally, ringing in a new year.

Works of Mercy Wise Men Fun

Two years ago, I thought about mixing picture books with Wise Men with service to create a new family tradition.  Then,last year, I actually did it.  It was so much fun, we've carried our "Works of Mercy Wise Men" on.

This morning, children discovered our Tales of Glory Nativity Playset Wise Men reading If He Had Not Come near a handwritten sign that said, "Reason for the Season".  So, we read the book and chatted about what the world would be like if Jesus had not come.  The children, then, decided to pray with the words the boy in the book prayed with and, also, to pray for the living and the dead by praying an additional prayer for babies. 

As the week continues, our Wise Men will likely find themselves reading:

  • Merry Christmas, Strega Nona near a foam question mark, whereupon the children and I might discuss how we prepare for Christmas and how we might help others prepare or, perhaps, how we might plan a big surprise in service to another.

  • The Catholic Children’s Treasure Box, Book 19 story about Rosemary and a cut out of a heart, whereupon, we will likely chat about how we can keep Jesus in our hearts – and share Him with others through some Work of Mercy that day.

  • Marta and the Manger Straw, a small wooden "cradle", and “straw”, thus beginning our Preparing the Manger for Jesus custom for the year, where the children may lay straw in Jesus' cradle each time they offer a sacrifice or kindness.

  • The Littlest Angel and a bag, whereupon we might consider what precious little items we have that we could give away to others that may need or like them.

  • The Friendly Beasts and bird seed, whereupon we may discuss how each creature in the book gives Christ what they can and how we can easily and simply give God’s creatures a gift.

  • The Small One and donkey figurine, whereupon we may chat about who or what needs a good home and how we can help with that.

Pageant Preparation
The children will be in a pageant this year on the eve of Epiphany, so I went to a planning meeting where we discussed details of how we will stage The First Christmas - A Children's Christmas Pageant Script (a free script.)  The children and I  begin practicing their parts for the pageant by reading the script with me regularly during our lessons.

Jesse Tree

As a family, we went on a short nature walk to find a fallen branch to act as our Jesse Tree this year.  Then, we came home and set up the tree. 

Later in the evening, we began reading the Jesse Tree, read some Scripture from the Old and New Testaments, and hung up one of our Jesse Tree ornaments.  (The ornaments we received in our swap last year do not correspond perfectly with the book, but we go with it, because we enjoy both the book and our ornament collection!)

Mary and Joseph's Journey and Our Nativity Sets

Over the years, we have collected a number of nativity sets, so, today, my daughter helped me to carefully unpack them and place them about the house. As always, we only set out full sets of three play ones we have.

Each of our other sets is currently set out without the Baby Jesus figurines (because those get put out by the children on Christmas) and the three Wise Men (because those figurines get placed on Epiphany.)  Our living room nativity set is also up without its Mary, Joseph, and donkey figurines, because those figurines take a turn in a different room in our house each week until Advent as we recall Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem.  (Typically, we have a simple dinner and movie night once a week and, then, go move the Mary and Joseph figurines.)

This year, since I am not sure we've blessed all of our nativity sets before, we will do so later in the week with the Blessing of a Creche f
rom Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers.
God of every nation and people, from the very beginning of creation you have made manifest your love: when our need for a Savior was great you sent your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. To our lives he brings joy and peace, justice, mercy, and love. Lord, bless all who look upon this manger; may it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus, and raise our thoughts to him, who is God-with-us and Savior of all, and who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The Feast Days of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and of Saint Catherine Laboure

Because the feast day of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal fell on the first day of Advent this year, we decided to delay most observances of it and to simply set an Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal peg doll and prayer card we received a Marian peg doll swap earlier this year. 

Tomorrow, the 28th, which is Saint Catherine Laboure's feast day, we will learn, pray, and study through:

Source: Holy Heroes
  • listening to an Altar Gang CD that mentions Saint Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal.

Candelight Readings by the Advent Wreath

Last week, I asked each of my children separately what book they absolutely did not want to miss reading this Advent, and they all had the same answer, "The next one like Jotham's Journey!"

Thus, my children were thrilled to see Ishtar's Odyssey come out and delighted in placing smooth, new candles in our old Advent wreath and then continuing our Advent tradition of nightly reading by candlelight.

Since we neglected to re-bless our Advent wreath today, we will do so later this week, using prayers in one of several booklets we have collected over the years or using the blessing found in a free printable at Loyola Press.  (The printable also contains a short history and prayers for each week during Advent.)


You might think that with all these Advent kickoff traditions, our day here was busy, busy, busy, but, honestly, although full, it was not too full.  In fact, I took heed of the message before Advent I received a couple of weeks ago and prioritized some pause during our day. 

The children played freely by themselves and with one another.  Daddy and the kids tossed a football about and watched some football online.  Daddy played guitar.  Little hands reached into an Advent book basket to begin perusing seasonal reads.  I took time to pray, think, do some organizing... 

Of course, read-together times happened, too, like with The First Noel.

Along with these simple pleasures, there were a few little bumps along the way (with a mislaid book, moments of misbehavior, and more "typical stuff"), but on the whole, the day was quite a beautiful start to our Advent.  I pray your Advent is already unfolding well, too!

What traditions, customs, and stories help you prepare your home and hearts for Jesus to come?


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