We have two November birthdays in our house, plus Thanksgiving, which this year we are traveling for (hopefully, ahead of the forecasted blizzard for Tuesday night). Advent will be upon us by the time we get home!
Our family always reads from the Bible about the story of salvation history during Advent and puts an ornament for each reading on our Jesse Tree. And we love to light the candles on our Advent wreath. My goal for Advent is to enter in the busy season prayerfully and cheerfully. So, for myself I always pray with the Blessed is She Advent devotional.
I would like to invite you to join me this year in praying with the Blessed is She Advent+Christmas devotional. It goes through the story of the family of Christ, from Genesis to Jesus’ birth, to the birth of the Church. Each of us on the Blessed is She team wrote a reflection sharing our story and inviting you to enter into Advent and Christmas with your story, of your family, of your life as a daughter of God. You’ll find my story on Day 7 of Advent!! Today (Monday, Nov. 25) is the last day to order to get it before Advent starts! But since it goes through Christmastide, don’t worry if you order it a few days late!
This year it took until the third week of Advent for me to have what I call “that Advent feeling.” I discovered in our dusty pile of CDs a forgotten Advent album produced by Wyoming Catholic College made in 2015. The first track is a hymn called Behold the Dwelling of God by Andre Gouzes, O.P. about Mary and the Incarnation.
Behold, the dwelling of God among his people, Mary, so highly favored, shelter of heaven’s Glory, Mother of Immanuel.
The angel of the Lord was sent to Mary, And the Virgin was overcome by the Light. Listen, Mary, do not be afraid: You will conceive and bear a Son. You are the new Eden and the Land of the Promise. In you, the Sun of Justice has made his dwelling.
The melody causes one to feel that a promise is going to be fulfilled, that our longing will one day come to an end. It reminds me of the faithful remnant of Israel crying out to the Lord: we have been faithful, so when are you going to rescue us? In Mary the promise to Israel, to all the nations, was fulfilled. Every Advent that old familiar longing and ache for a fulfillment that we cannot have in this valley of tears returns to me as I contemplate the coming of the Infant Christ… Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…
My stock Advent wreath photo.. this is a few years old…but looks the same this year!
1. One of the goals I have in setting family traditions is for them seamlessly be apart of our days, weeks, and years. I think that our Advent ones are pretty well established. We have not changed anything from last year or the year before. It took me about 20 minutes to set up our Advent in the home: wreath, Jesse tree, wreath on door. We fit the Jesse Tree into our night time prayer time. We sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel with the lights out a dinner. We pray for Jesus to help us prepare to receive Him in our hearts at Christmas.
2. I was just talking to some other moms at our home school co-op this morning about how easy the internet has made Christmas shopping. You can do it in a few hours plus you get the excitement of packages almost every day!
3. The main laborious part of Advent for us is Christmas cards. We still write them all by hand, even the addresses. We purchase our cards from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priests, and the recipients of each card is enrolled in their novena of Christmas Masses, which I think is so cool. It is worth the card writing tradition to give this gift to all our family and friends. We like to spread out the card writing. The professor and I each do ten a night until we are finished.
4. The weekend before Thanksgiving I took the advice of a few Facebook friends and let my garden Brussel Sprouts brave a cold front. I harvested them on Tuesday in my last harvest of the Spencer Garden 2016 season. They were nearly frozen when I brought them in, so we blanched and froze them immediately for use on the Immaculate Conception. I am going to try them again next year, but plant them earlier and actually space them out so they get more sun. We had a small forest of plants, that only yielded 1.3 lbs of marble sized sprouts.
5. Yesterday, for the Solemnity, I made the Professor’s favorite pie, steak, stout, and mushroom, accompanied by the garden brussel sprouts braised in cream and served with bacon from our “happy” half hog. The “happy” beef is from the Professor’s aunt and uncle’s hobby farm; G even got to pick which of the beeves she wanted for our freezer. It was all delicious. My dear toddler son has yet to discover that Good Food is worth eating, so we had a leftover pie to freeze and eat at a later date. Maybe on the octave?
A little blurry, but perhaps that captures the mischievous glee he takes in all he does…
6. Speaking of toddler sons, I am pretty sure that God made toddler boys for the purpose of having cute haircuts. The hair cutting process itself it not cute: fussing on his part and my fear of cutting my own fingers off as he flops about. But the result is adorable. I am a little obsessed with his hair and eyes these days. But also so thankful that he naps and has an early bedtime as his favorite things to do are drag chairs around, turn lights on and off, and try to get at everything on the kitchen counters.
7. I had heard that there will be a new Rite of Marriage in the Roman Catholic Church soon, but I did not realize that it was so simple. According to my girls to get married a bride has to walk down the aisle to the singing of “Alleluia” and then “Kiss Lips” with the intended groom. When one daughter announced that she had married her balloon I informed her that she had the wrong matter to have the Sacrament of Matrimony and probably the wrong form as well…
My favorite Advent was the year my second was born. She was due the second week of December and I decided to do all of my shopping and card writing in November so that I could just rest and not worry about the physical Christmas preparations. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I decided that we had to finish everythingfor the baby even though we were still 12 days before the due date; I had a hunch. And sure enough, I woke up in labor at 4 am on the First Sunday of Advent. My daughter was born before dinnertime, and because I had been so well prepared, I spent all of Advent not worrying about the physical Christmas preparations and just contemplating Our Lady waiting for her newborn baby.
There was something nice about not being apart of the busyness normally associated with Advent. I sat on the couch, nursed my baby, read to my toddler, napped all the time, and watched it snow almost everyday that December in Buffalo, NY, and was readying my heart for Christmas day. I was free from the pre-Christmas craziness.
Without a due date to motivate myself to do things early, I am not usually done by Advent, but I do get most of the shopping and card writing done by the first week of Advent. I do not see it as getting caught up in Christmas early, but preparing for Christmas in all the many ways that we have to. We also have a number of family Advent traditions, such as the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent calendar, and not decorating until closer to Christmas.
But how are we supposed to deal with the neighbor across the street who has a huge Santa Claus plastered across her door the day after Thanksgiving? Or the house with the lawn covered in light up residents of the North Pole by mid-November? Or the Christmas trees and lights all over stores with the blaring Christmas carols?
I used to be a huge grump about these things. I suppose one could call me an Advent purist. I still cringe a little thinking about putting up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, though my husband and I decided it would be best since we always travel over Christmas. I found myself not able to enjoy Christmas music when Christmas came because I spent all of Advent critical of the music being played. When I spent all of Advent not joyful, it made it hard to become joyful when Christmas arrived. Then my daughters started noticing decorated house and stores before Christmas, and I had to change my attitude.
I learned to not be so grumpy by explaining the early Christmas festivities of others to my children. When it came to music, we discovered some great Advent music, but also noticed the large number of secular Christmas music that is actually about wintery things and could be considered Advent songs themselves. Certain hymns I prefer to save for Christmas, but others I have given myself permission to enjoy in Advent. Christmas lights on houses we explain as people’s way of getting ready for Christmas. The lights can serve us as a reminder of what Advent it for, preparing for the light of Christ to come. I think that December 13, the Feast of St. Lucy whose name means “light” would be a good day to light ones lights. As for the stores and shopping, we just view everything as a way to prepare for Christmas. If stores did not have things up early, then we could not get ready in time. And sometimes we just explain that a lot of people do not wait for Christmas day to celebrate Christmas, but we do. We wait to celebrate birthdays and open birthday presents until the actual day, and we do the same for Jesus.
And then there is Santa Claus. My children just call him St. Nicholas. We do St. Nicholas day, but we don’t do Santa on Christmas. I know there are lots of opinions here, but we simply think the recent Santa Claus tradition to be unnecessary for us to celebrate Christmas seeing as it is a big detraction from Jesus’ birth. The presents on Christmas are in honor of the Christ child and the Jesus that dwells in each of us. As for St. Nicholas day, my children put out their shoes on December 5, and eagerly look to see what we put in their shoes “in honor of St. Nicholas.” They do not care that we do not pretend that the small gifts and candy are brought by the great saint himself. We have traditions for other and feast days throughout the year, and St. Nicholas day has its own special tradition. They also know that some children think Santa comes of Christmas, but that does not change their enthusiasm for Christmas morning or presents.
I discovered that when I stopped being critical all of Advent that it made my Advent a more prayerful experience, and that sometimes the early Christmas music helped me experience the joy of Christmas day more fully. It is not everyday that we celebrate the anniversary of our God’s birth. Advent and Christmas are both beautiful seasons, and I love all of the decorations and lights. I am glad that I am able to appreciate them all more fully now.
Whether you are an Advent purist or not, grumpiness during Advent is never helpful. Don’t let the early secular Christmas be the Grinch that stole your Advent, just find a way to make it part of Advent, and you can enjoy the waiting and preparation that Advent really is about.
Originally published in full at Truth and Charity.
On Sunday our pastor at St. Agnes promoted Advent booklets with family prayers that had been put together for the parishioners to take home and use. He emphasized the importance of our domestic church and keeping the liturgical seasons there as well. There are so many options for Advent and it might have to do with the overwhelming secularization of Advent with Christmas decor everywhere. We try to keep things simple at home and slowly get the house ready for Christmas. We start with the Advent essentials in out home, Advent wreath and Jesse Tree.
This is our Jesse Tree:
It sits on our family altar.
This little tree was M and my first Christmas tree, and when we moved into a house we decided to switch it to the Jesse Tree. I have been not very good at cross stitching our ornaments, so we mostly use our hand-drawn paper circle ornaments. Maybe that should be a goal for this pregnancy, to get them done… I grew up with the Jesse tree and always loved hearing the story of Salvation history from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ every day for all of Advent. I want this to be a part of my children’s experience of Advent as well. We take the readings from this book, The Jesse Tree: Story and Symbols of Advent. Under the tree we also have an empty manger to remind us of what we are waiting for in Advent, Jesus.
We have one main Advent wreath this year with beeswax candles:
We had fun rolling the sheets of wax into candles. These ones are only supposed to burn for 4 hours. Anyone know of longer burning beeswax Advent candles?
Since we do not always dine in the dining room, I set a small one up in the kitchen nook for use at breakfast, lunch, and dinners in the kitchen. My husband is casually into minimalist art, but he wishes we had just done rocks on a stick of bamboo.
Some have accused this of not being a wreath; they clearly do not understand minimalism.
I, also, put together a simple front door wreath which I will switch over to Christmas themed when the time is right.
The other daily thing we do for Advent is open the door on our little paper Advent calendar. I have seen many beautiful reusable calendars, but this is what we use for now.
Our church handed these out last year. I have no idea who made them.
Advent is coming and the Catholic world is full of great suggestions of how to prepare for Christmas. I have been given the opportunity to review a book for children, Christmas With Bernadette, and the Magnificat Advent Companion App. One is a sweet story of a young girl and her family throughout Advent, and the other is a beautiful spiritual resource designed to enrich your spiritual life this Advent.
Christmas with Bernadette is the second volume in the delightful children’s book series authored by Emily Ortega and illustrated by Meg Whalen. I reviewed the first book of the series, I’m Bernadette, earlier this year.
Bernadette is a spunky first grader in a Catholic elementary school. She is the oldest in her family with two younger brothers and a baby on the way. It is refreshing to read children’s literature about a loving but not perfect Catholic family. Bernadette has the typical struggles of an oldest sister with her two younger brothers who are set on destroying things and share none of her interests. And of course there is school and remembering her items for the Christmas party.
Christmas With Bernadette is a great story for showing children the traditional Catholic way of preparing for Christmas with a full season of Advent. We follow Bernadette and her family from the beginning of Advent through Christmas day, with tales of the Advent wreath, helping Mama in the kitchen, Daddy solving the problem of figuring out Christmas presents, and wondering when that baby is going to be born and if it will be a sister this time.
The book itself is 106 pages long with easy to follow chapters. A child ready for simple chapter books would be able to read it alone. My pre-reader daughters, a five year old and four year old, really enjoyed listening to the story, which took us about a week reading aloud one or two chapters a day.
Advent is the perfect time of year for children to read this story. (I am planning on sending it to my nieces for St. Nicholas Day, so that they can follow along with Bernadette during Advent.) I doubt that there are many other children’s chapter books that contain the liturgical year, a growing Catholic family, and a likeable, believable, and kind main character. If you know of any young Catholic readers or almost readers, Christmas With Bernadette would make a great gift this year for Advent or for Christmas.
I had the print copy of the Magnificat Advent Companion last year, and used it along with the daily readings to prepare for Christmas. This year, I have had a chance to preview the Advent App, which features much more than the print copy. In the app there is the daily Advent Meditation, but there are also prayers for the morning, evening, and night, the daily Mass readings and prayers (including the Order of the Mass), and a whole slew of other Advent features. There are recordings of Advent chants, an Advent penance service, the Advent stations, prayers for the “O” antiphons, and even blessings for your Advent wreath and Christmas tree.
Furthermore, the app is very simple and intuitive with the same format as the print Magnificat on the screen. One can easily switch from one screen to another. And there is a calendar feature to allow one to choose the day, though the current date is automatically chosen. The prayers on the app run through Christmas day.
With this app on my iPad (I still have a lame phone), I have all the liturgical resources I need for this Advent. I am pretty excited to use the meditations for my personal prayer time and the other prayers for our family Advent practices.
I will be conducting a giveaway of both items ending on Wednesday, November 26. There will two winners, one for each item.
On that day, A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.-Isaiah 11:1
Every year growing up I looked forward to Advent. My parents worked to make it special, and looking back I imagine it was to combat the pre-Christmas consumer season. Every First Sunday of Advent before dinner my father would read the blessing of the Advent wreath and the tall brand-new tapers of purple and rose. Then my eldest sister lit the first purple candle (we took turns each day) and we sang together”O Come, o come Emmanuel.”
After dinner when the dishes were cleared and washed, my mother would sit with the four of us children by our home Jesse Tree and read the first reading from Scripture. The Jesse Tree is a devotion is done by lay people in their homes during Advent.
The devotion includes having a small tree in one’s home, such as a small evergreen or a small branch of a tree from one’s yard, reading a specific reading from Scripture each day, and then hanging a corresponding ornament on the tree. By the end of Advent the whole tree is full of ornaments. In our home, my mother eventually made a tree out of felt and all the ornaments were also made of felt. (We used this devotional book which gave a guideline of readings and came with paper ornaments which we used before my mother made our own.)
This devotion of the Jesse Tree stuck with me as an adult and my first year of college I read the readings on my own until I went home for Christmas break. My first Christmas married, shortly before the birth of our first child, my husband and I hand drew our own Jesse Tree ornaments on paper and did the readings together. I am now working on a counted cross-stitch version of our ornaments.
We use a 20 inch artificial evergreen tree to hang the ornaments. Our little girls love to hear the stories every year, and as they get older I am eager for them to learn more fully the story of Salvation history each Advent.
A home Jesse Tree can be as simple as a branch from a tree hung with the ornaments cut out from the devotional book, and there are many ideas online found with a quick search. The idea is to prepare oneself for Christmas and observe the season of Advent by reading Scripture passages that point to the coming of Christ. Some sets of readings start with Creation and move through important events of the Old Testament while others focus solely on the New Testament.
The name of the Jesse Tree comes from the fact that Jesus’ genealogy is traced to the line of Jesse, the father of David. This is why I prefer to use readings from Scripture that start with the Old Testament.
The readings we use for each day start show the ancient line of Jesus beginning with Adam and Even in the story of Creation in Genesis, and then the necessity for Christ’s birth because of the Fall; then going through Scripture we read about others in the line Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and then the prophets who told about the coming of Christ. The last week focuses on the New Testament readings leading to the birth of Jesus.
In reading about those who prefigure Christ, the prophecies about his coming, and finally the events immediately before His birth, we prepare ourselves throughout all of Advent. As we observe the liturgical season with the Church it helps keep the focus of what Christmas is really about: God becoming man, as He promised again and again throughout Scripture, so that we can again be united with Him.