Advent is not merely about our preparation to receive once again the Christ Child at Bethlehem. It is also about the Second Coming of the Lord as well as other ways in which the Lord comes to us.
But the Advent season itself is coming and Christmas isn’t far behind. Just yesterday I penned my last article for The Wanderer for the liturgical year. Tempus fugit.
Perhaps you readers could use this entry to share some ideas about how to make Advent and Christmas a fruitful time for yourselves and families.
Do you have customs?
Each year I like to make an Advent wreath, and I light the candles in the evening.
Do you have an Advent calendar for your children (or yourselves, for that matter)?
Are there any other things you do, or don’t do, for Advent?
Are you the type who listens to Christmas music before Christmas?
When do you put up your tree and decorated it?
Do you eat fish on Christmas Eve? Pork hocks and lentils after Christmas? Goose? Cookies?
Do you have stockings at the mantle or a creche? Does the youngest child put the start or angel on the tree?
What happens in your parishes? Are there food and clothing and toy drives?
Does Father still insist on using those cliche blue vestments which are contra legem?
Maybe some discussion here can help other people think, in advance, about Advent, which is fast approaching.
I’m just askin’.
To help me be more on time with Advent, I pack up my Advent candle holder and decorations with my Thanksgiving decorations instead of Christmas stuff, because it come up pretty quickly after Thanksgiving.
I grew up with the tradition of an Advent wreath; my wife and I did it last year, we’ll do it again this year.
We have an Advent “evensong” at my parish. (I was dismayed when I learned that “evensong” is properly an Anglican term. More dismayed when I learned that our parish “evensong” isn’t even real Vespers.)
Our parish has a “giving tree” thing.
And I’m giving a presentation on Eucharistic Adoration as it pertains to the Incarnation which we prepare to celebrate during Advent. It’s better than it was going to be, thanks to an excellent sermon given by Fr. Z at Mater Ecclesiae a few weeks ago!
Our family uses the Advent wreath, lighting one candle each week while reciting prayers. I found an old script that we follow.
We also have two Advent calendars, and we play chants and classic Catholic songs. I also have two Christmas Mass CD’s that we play.
As my grandfather’s anarchist friend once told him, “You’ve got to get them young.” It is very important to have a Catholic centered family, particularly when your children are young.
One thing that I have incorporated over the past few years – true Christmas wrapping paper. None of this jolly, red cheeked fat guy. I have found paper that actually depicts Catholic themes. I now also make my own labels, quoting the Virgin Mary about her pregnancy (Mt. something or other). Finding the wrapping paper is not easy, though.
Also, I am gathering Catholic Christmas ornaments and icons, statues of St. Nicolas.
On the First Sunday of Advent (Saturday evening after First Vespers) we put out our Advent Wreath, made from dried wine grape vines. We also set up our creche, the “barn” being made my my father many years ago. We do not place the Christ Child in until Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass (here “Midnight Mass” is at 10pm, but that’s another story!). It is a great point for meditation looking at the creche throughout Advent, as St. Joseph, Holy Mary, and the rest gaze at the empty centre, waiting…
My mother bakes tons of cookies… I roast a turkey on Christmas Day… Homemade eggnog, hot chocolate, and roasted chestnuts can often be found too… And don’t forget the Christmas movie favourites (The Bishop’s Wife, The Homecoming, Miracle on 34th Street [original], to just name a few).
The tree goes up usually the second weekend in December. And I usually bring out the Christmas music very early, just because I love it so. I am trying to break old habits of treating Advent like Christmas (thank you, secularism & commercialism). Praying the Liturgy of the Hours and attending daily Mass has helped me to better keep the “waiting” in Advent and Christ in Christmas!
On the first Sunday of Advent, our family puts up our “Advent Tree,” which is also our “Christmas Tree.” I string it with two sets of lights — purple lights and white lights. My wife and kids put purple balls on it as ornaments. And for all of advent we only use the purple lights.
On Christmas Eve day, we take down the purple ornaments and my wife and kids decorate the tree with Christmas Ornaments. And from that day until we take the Christmas Tree down — on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord — we use the white lights.
The nice thing about this tradition is that our kids completely and totally understand that we’re first in Advent Season, and then in Christmas Season.
We’ve tried to use an Advent Wreath, but never seem to be able to keep up with it.
This is a great article on Advent: http://fisheaters.com/customsadvent1.html
and seasonal customs: http://fisheaters.com/customs.html#advent
We have a tradition of using a wreath that starts with unequal length candles so that the lit ones are always the same height.
Late on Christmas eve when the candles are nearly done, we all gather around and eat grandma’s favourite raccoon recipe cooked by the youngest couple.
…eating bakalar on Christmas Eve…
Christopher Mandzok–I find that Walmart usually has at least one religious Christmas wrapping paper available.
Hugo– Nice! We recycle week 4’s candle for a year or two since it often doesn’t get burned for more than a few days.
Over the years I\’ve become quite multicultural where CHRISTmas is concerned. Always try to keep it faithful to the Faith.
It all starts with Advent. The CHRISTmas shopping season ENDS with the beginning of Advent. If I have not bought it or made it by the first Sunday of Advent, then it will have to wait until after CHRISTmas.
For Advent we start with a Jesse Tree. I\’ve found appropriate Scripture readings for each day and I have my son draw something that best explains the passage we choose to put on a cardboard CHRISTmas ornament for the tree. My son is seven years-old and knows more Scripture than I did at his age. All of it was learned in a very natural and fun way. Of course we also have an Advent wreath.
We also re-enact the traditional Mexican Posadas. Thanks to my parents I love this tradition and have passed it on to my son.
I bake hundreds of cookies to give away to friends and neighbors.
We wait to put up the CHRISTmas tree on December 24th. The days prior to that are spent cleaning our house (both physical and spiritual) to receive Him. My son also makes a birthday card and we bake a cake.
We celebrate CHRISTmas dinner and with the leftovers(which aren\’t really left over, but purposefully made on CHRISTmas Day), we also celebrate St. Stephen\’s Day on the 26th, a Catalan tradition.
We continue with Holy Innocents,on the 28th my son and I pray the Rosary as a family for all the murdered unborn babies. and continue praying a daily Rosary until the Solemnity of Mary on Jan. 1.
It all ends on Jan. 5 and 6. On the 5th we put our shoes by the window and the Three Wise Men put small gifts in them. On the 6th we go to Mass and have the traditional Spanish \”roscón de reyes.\”
I\’m very lucky to have 17 days off for CHRISTmas vacation as much of what I do with my son is very time consuming, but I started with one \”new\” tradition every year and now it\’s not all that difficult.
As somebody said above \”you have to get them young\”. I agree! If you do it in a fun way that engages their sense of wonderment, they will yearn to learn the \”serious\” stuff.
Rejoice and be glad, He is coming!
I can remember in grade school my teachers would draw a tree on the calk bored. and every day for the class prayer they would have a little book with an image inserted in the pages of symbols. It was called the jesse tree. and each student would put an image on the tree up untill Christmas vacation. Also being in a Byzantine Catholic school one of the 3 on the east coast now thier are only 2. my school closed in 2003. any way we would in the begining of December celeberted the feats of St. Nicholas. the day before we were told to bring a shoe and we would leavit there the next day we would find all sorts of treats to eat. It was a great school I miss it dearly. many great Advent and Christmas Traditions.
As I’m single and have typically had a full-time job as music director for a Catholic church, I find it really difficult to “keep Advent” or develop any personal customs. Part of the problem is that I’m so busy with preparations at the church. Choir rehearsals feature the preparation of both Advent and Christmas music.
I typically put up my tree (artificial, sadly, but I’m an apartment dweller, so there’s the whole safety thing)and other decorations the Friday after Thanksgiving, or the weekend of Advent I. I do have a special Advent candle array but don’t use an evergreen wreath. I light my first candle on the night of Avent I and recite the office. I then light them every night and read the office.
I also have a nice recording of the choir of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James, Toronto, singing the “Advent Procession,” which is an Anglican tradition similar to Christmas Eve lessons and carols, which I listen to during Advent. I try to avoid listening to Christmas music and the like until at least the last week of Advent, even though the choir will already be in full-tilt prep for the Midnight Mass. Other favorite albums include the live recording of the for-television operetta “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Menotti and a recording of an “Advent Lessons and Carols” entitled, “Redeemer of the Nations, Come” by The Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle under the direction of J. Michael Thompson. I also confess that I have several secular recordings by Jim Brickman and others of seasonal music that I’ll listen to.
I just bought for this year a really nice yet inexpensive Nativity with all the figures. I’d like to have it blessed. But I have an important question: at what time is it appropriate to set out the scene, and is the Holy Infant placed in the display right away or held back until Christmas Eve? Is this personal preference or is there some teaching on this?
The day before Advent, the St Vincent de Paul Giving Tree goes up at church- this program makes a *huge* difference to our local poor. Gifts in kind for children (sometimes toys, often clothing), and money to support our ongoing mission..
On Advent 1, the wreath goes up with just a bow on the front door, and the Advent wreath goes up (alas, not German style, which is hung from the ceiling over the dining table).
On Advent 2, the Christmas lights go up and Christmas cards and mailed gifts go out.
On Advent 3, the Christmas tree goes up (though I come from a family where we maintained the venerable tradition of the tree & creche going up after all young children went to bed on Christmas Eve – I am always travelling to family, so I help my elderly parents put their tree up on Christmas Eve)
On Advent 4, the creche goes up (earlier if I am travelling then).
A good spiritual practice in Advent is to form intentions for my spiritual program in the upcoming Lent.
Christmas Eve – go to Mass with elderly parents
Christmas Day – go to Mass for the Day (my favorite)
* * *
FOr those who are in a position to shift their traditions, I cannot more highly recommend having the tree and decorations and creche going up after the little ones go to bed on Christmas Eve. The sight of their beholding the splendor of Christmas morning is *much* greater than otherwise, and you get the benefit of being able to be less focuses on loot.
Also, take your children to Mass on Christmas morning. Its’ the best way to detach them from the focus on loot.
Moreoever, if you can, spread the loot over Christmastide. New Year’s Day was actually the older and more traditional day to exchange gifts, and Epiphany (Little Christmas) likewise. You can get the benefit of post-holiday sales and actually help to mitigate post-Christmas blues that are common among children.
As much as possible, emphasis actions (familial and sacred and corporal works of mercy) over loot.
What you do with the creche in your home is entirely a matter of your preference. Put it all out, or gradually, makes no difference.
Some families have the custom of having the Magi figures move from room to room of the house until the Eve of Epiphany, when they join the creche. It wasn’t our family’s custom, but it’s a nice domestic church practice for families with children that might appreciate it.
We haven’t settled into all our traditions yet since our oldest is only 4, but some things that we have and will continue are the advent wreath and advent calendar (I got a nice reusable one that has little books that hang on the tree as ornaments and have scripture and hymns inside to read each day.
We also hang our stockings for St. Nicholas on his feast day.
We make stollen bread and lebkuchen every year.
A tentative plan this year is to put lights on the tree for St. Lucy’s feast day and/or make that the day we drive around looking at Christmas lights.
Also, I like decorating with candles and natural decorations; so, perhaps we will do something with candles (making, decorating, lighting) on St. Ambrose’s feast day.
We definitely don’t take anything down until Eipiphany, but maybe we’ll even wait until Candlemas and try the tradition of having candles bless then.
In the Byzantine Catholic churches the Nativity Fast (also called Phillip’s Fast) begins on November 15 and runs to Christmas. It is much like lent. The western church gave up the pre-Nativity fast centuries ago but the western season of Advent nevertheless retains a penetential character.
We use an Advent wreath and light the candle(s) for meals. Our Advent is spent making cookies and gifts as well as shopping. As 50-somethings we give away Advent canlendars to God-children, nephews, and grandbabies. I am from Germany (was 9 when we came to the US)so I try to maintain the St. Nicholas tradition with a small, religious gift such as a picture book.
We have what we call ‘pre-tree’ decorations such as wreaths, garlands, and winter-themed pillows that go up in early December. In keeping with tradition, I don’t put up the tree until the Sunday before Christmas. When it is the appointed time, we bring out the traditional (classical) Christmas music, a glass of wine, and decorations for the tree. It is a real tree, candles in holders as well as electrical lighting, and Christmas tree decorations such as angels and Roman Millenium ornaments which have themes such as the Annunciation, Nativity, etc. At this time we put a creche on the mantel by the tree.
On Christmas Eve 25 or so family members arrive and we read inspirational readings chosen years ago by our German mother, then comes the religious Christmas music. We have guitar players and choir members in the family so this can be quite good. As the kids get older – some are now up to 10 – they have their own ‘show’. Last year they went from Jingle Bells to the abc song! Now it is time for a blend of traditional German food and the offerings brought by the guests. Finally it is time for a gift exchange for the children. When they are busy playing with their new toys the adults go for a rousing game of Santa Exchange game (some call it dirty Santa). All gifts must be good gifts you wouldn’t mind taking back home…mostly liquors, wines, or other adult treats. When the festivities wind down we head to Midnight Mass – the grand finale!
We are fortunate to have upheld our traditions all of these years. Mom died of breast cancer 14 years ago and as the oldest, I have taken up the hosting role. Most of the 6 siblings and their families come in addition to our own 3 adult children with their families. The in-laws have even joined us now! One priest-friend who attended years ago said that we had our own Christmas ‘liturgy’. I guess you could call it that. What a blessing!
As you might expect, from someone who writes a blog called counter-cultural father, we do Christmas a little differently….
The most outrageous thing is that we make a distinction between Christmas and Advent – we celebrate Advent in the 4 weeks preceding Christmas, and Christmas on Christmas day itself and the following 12 days.
So – to the scandal of our friends, neighbours and the rest of the world – we don’t put up our decorations or Christmas tree till the night of Christmas Eve. That has the benefit of everything being very fresh and exciting for Christmas Day. They then stay up until Twelfth Night – the feast of the Epiphany.
In Advent, by contrast, we have an advent wreath and advent calendars, and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel each evening, with the right candles lit on the wreath before our evening prayers. We use the collect from the appropriate Sunday’s Mass as the prayer with the Advent Wreath(EF but in English, for the kids: eg Stir up our hearts, we beseech thee O Lord, and come: by the brightness of thine advent, lighten the darkness of our mind [but that’s from memory, so I may have muddled two up…) .
We also have a Jesse tree and have a reading from the Bible each night, to recall the whole of salvation history.
We try to keep presents within reasonable bounds: we want the kids to enjoy Christmas without it becoming an orgy of materialism….
In defiance of all health and safety busybodies everywhere we have real candles on our Christmas tree, which we light for meals and evening prayers for the 12 days. We also sing a Carol after prayers every night of the 12 days, chosen by one of the kids.
And of course we maintain the religious nature of the feast.
I love these ideas especially since we are trying to wean our family (okay me) from the more secular nature of christmas and early festivities. On a practical note though, getting a tree to last through epiphany when most lots are selling only dried out ones near christmas eve, how do you do it – or do you use the fake ones?
“Evensong” is not Anglican. Evensong = Vespers. Oefensang is the Old English word for Vespers.
Henry VIII was not king of Mercia!
Now, a specific way of holding Vespers may be Anglican. But we do have the Latin Rite’s Anglican Use, so we’ve stolen it back. Fret not.
If you have a live tree, or you cut a live tree right before Christmas, I imagine the candles wouldn’t be as bad a fire hazard….
I’m single, so I don’t have much Advent or Christmas. I just live at church doing choir, that’s all. I’m also in a singing group at my parish that goes to nursing homes and sings carols.
When I was a kid, we got our stockings on St. Nicholas’ Day.
Like others- we put our tree up on Christmas Eve and it stays up til Ephiphany.
Advent is for Advent, Christmas is for Christmas.
St. Nicks day is big at my house, but it’s also my birthday :-D
And not only do our Magi travel, but Mary and Joseph do as well. And Baby Jesus doesn’t make an appearance til Christmas day.
But I do admit to listening to Christmas music all year long. But Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Bing and Mannheim Steamroller don’t come out til Christmas. I did, however, make an awesome Advent CD cobbeling together songs from various CDs.
We have an Advent wreath, with the four candles, and one we add on Christmas eve. The tree only goes up on Christmas Eve, and we try not to listen to “Christmas Carols” until Christmas is actually here. No stockings, but presents under the tree.
Maureen: Yes, but Jeff may still be right. Evensong is a Cranmerian conflation of Vespers and Compline; it’s thus a Reformation tradition and not altogether Catholic.
My husband and I are still forming our advent and Christmas traditions and so I love hearing everyone else’s.
So far, we’ve been using the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a day to gather evergreen branches for the wreath (magnolia leaves have to suffice down south!). Then, instead of television after dinner, we have some scripture readings and advent meditations as well as some advent hymns. Our biggest problem so far is that because we don’t have children yet, we spend the week before and the week after Christmas visiting far-flung relatives. Any advent plans we had become too inconvenient when living out of a suitcase. This year, we plan on staying home. I hope we can really cement some of our traditions now.
Before my grandparents stopped hosting Christmas eve, my favorite part of our tradition was the children’s parade. Grandmother would set out two angels and a large creche on a coffee table in the living room and all the grandchildren would make a procession lined by parents armed with video cameras starting in the kitchen, through the dining room and into the living room. The smallest grandchild carried the baby Jesus and each other child would carry a candle. All the adults would sing “O, Come Little Children.” When Jesus was in his creche and the candles were all around, we would sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candlesfollowed with as many other carols as we could think of. Presents came after, just like any other birthday party.
When I was growing up, Advent and Christmas looked something like this:
– Advent wreath, lit at dinner on each of the Sundays, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Additional candles next to the wreath were lit on Christmas.
– Advent calendar in some years. In high school my German teacher sold the kind with chocolate behind the doors, and we bought them.
– Christmas tree and associated decorations put up around the Third or Fourth Sunday of Advent, depending on the day of the week on which Christmas fell. The tree usually came down just shy of Epiphany, although that also varied. I think the dates depended mostly on when I would be out of school and free to assist.
– Creche put up and taken down on the same days as the tree, and arranged with great care and elaboration by my mother.
– Christmas music not played, as a rule, until the tree and creche were up. When I was 6 my parents bought the Metropolitan Museum of Art carols book and tapes, which became the family standard.
– No fixed Christmas Eve meal, but it was much simpler than Christmas Day’s beef roast with Yorkshire pudding.
– Early morning Mass, usually early enough so we heard Mass at Dawn, followed by breakfast and gift-giving.
Now that I have a family of my own, things look like this:
– We were unable to have an Advent wreath last year, and intend to remedy that this year.
– We may get an Advent calendar when we have older kids; our first is currently 3 months old.
– Four Christmas Masses, because my wife is an organist. :)
– Tree went up on Second Sunday of Advent last year, since we had that particular Sunday afternoon free. If possible, I’d like to do it later this year.
– We have two or three creches, one given as a wedding gift and others donated by family; we also have a Byzantine-style Nativity icon.
– Christmas music also includes chant, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and his other Christmas cantatas, whatever additional traditional music we own, and Vince Guaraldi.
– The bust of Beethoven on our piano gets a Santa Claus hat and little red shoulder cape. (Yeah, it has nothing to do with Christmas proper, but it looks really funny.)
Well, after the signing of the traditional advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Liturgical Blue” (it became “traditional” after it was sung the second time) I chant first Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent.
I do usually put up my Christmas tree sometime during the Advent season, and the manger scene – with Mary and Joseph taking the trip to the stable from a nearby coffee table, and of course leaving the Infant Christ hidden until after Midnight Mass, the shepherds watching their flock under TV, and placing the Magi on the most easterly corner of my condo.
In the office, I set up an advent wreath (though the building code prevents us from lighting candles)
of course, the Manger! It goes up during Advent, with everyone slowly wending their way to the Stable.
Christmas music before Christmas: Yes, usually. Local radio stations have gone into all-Christmas mode earlier and earlier. So, that sates my desire, at least for the secular music.
Nativity Set: Yes. We also try to move the three kings across the house over Christmas, but we have to be careful of leaving anything fragile out where the cat can get it.
Christmas Tree: If we put one out, it’s a small artificial tree. It has a lamp and rotating lenses in the base, and fiberoptic ‘needles’. A little pathetic, but clean. Things are usually so hectic, and we usually go away for part of Christmas, so we don’t bother with the natural tree. BTW – to have a natural tree last longer – if at all possible cut the tree after the ground has frozen.
Decorations: Fairly simple. Electric candles in the windows. My wife likes getting out seasonal napkins, table runners and the like. I usually take all the cards we receive and hang them on the living room wall.
Advent wreath: Haven’t done one in recent years, but it may be good to get back in the habit. We’ve been a little more conscious of our family meal time this fall and that may help focus a little.
A couple of church groups will have their Christmas parties. We usually try to focus on a doing for others along the way. Our choir may do Mass with prison ministry or a concert at one of the local shelters, and a fundraiser for one local parish. Our parish has a drive for the men who live in the shelter on the premises. The church groups will each pick some charitable cause, encourage the attendees to donate material or cash ~= the cost of the meal.
Socially, my wife usually has a cookie swap with some of her girlfriends. We usually make a point of going out on the town as a treat for ourselves – symphony or a show or something.
Very important tradition we’ve observed every year since we married – every year at Thanksgiving, we say this is the year we’ll organize the card list and write/mail all in an organized fashion well in advance. Followed by the sacred tradition of scrawling a dozen or two cards and mailing them Dec. 22nd.
Family is important, of course. We get around to all our parents in turn. We’ve learned since our first year of marriage, when we ran ourselves into the ground trying to visit everyone (and we both have large extended families) remotely possible in the range and time. Now, we concentrate on our folks, , to enjoy what time we have left with them – the rest is catch as catch can.
Church – We try to at least have Christmas Eve at our parish before heading out of state to see the parents. Our parish is undergoing a time of trial – we’re looking to Advent in hope of making a new beginning for our local church with the beginning of the Church’s new year.
Prayer: Needed eversomuchmoreso. Thanks for what we’ve received this past year. Hopes for the year ahead. Some awe for His wondrous deeds. Some penitence for our wretched ones. As the man on the radio said: “Gimmee! Thanks! Wow! and Oooops!
How about a donation to Father Z?
As this will only be our second Christmas together, and our first Christmas in our own apartment, my husband and I have not yet had time to develop our own traditions. We abstain from meat on Mondays and Wednesdays in addition to our year-round Friday observance during Advent. We will certainly have an Advent wreath (it might be on the dining table, or on our home altar). Because we married in November last year, many of our wedding presents were Christmas-themed, so we have plenty of decorations to put up. I think we have four creches. Maybe we will unpack one creche scene each week of Advent, starting with the smallest one.
Because we are both musicians, there is no question about whether we have Christmas music during Advent–we have to rehearse and perform Christmas music all throughout December. We are organizing a “novena of Vespers” at our parish for the nights leading up to Christmas Eve, and will play and sing at several Christmas services. We will probably be alone on Christmas Eve–no family visiting–but may visit nearby relatives for Christmas dinner.
The big discussion is when we will open presents. My family’s tradition is all confused–when I was a child, we’d go to the evening Mass on Christmas Eve, then have dinner and open presents, with “Santa Claus” presents in the morning. We continued to open presents after Christmas Eve dinner even when I started going to the Midnight Mass instead of the evening Mass. My husband’s family always waited until Christmas morning for everything. I guess we had better work out a system now, before we have children.
At our parish (where I am the organist), Advent means we sing Agnus Dei XVIII, which is just about the most traditional music that is ever heard here (we’re stuck with Gather Comprehensive.) Of course, everyone has forgotten it since it’s been a long time since Lent (when we also use it,) so they have to be re-taught. That means our music director gets up and does a lecture before Mass and tries to get the congregation to sing through it a few times, and of course no one does. So then we come to the Agnus Dei at Mass and only a couple of people join in with the cantor (generally, it’s other people who are also cantors.) Father gets mad at the musicians because “the people aren’t able to participate!” By the fourth Sunday, the singing has improved somewhat, but of course they won’t be singing it again for months, when the whole process will have to begin again.
I’m glad someone else shelves Christmas before Advent. I don’t tend to buy presents, but I can afford some cards, so I like to have them all written and stamped by before Advent, and so I can just post them off closer to the date without hassle.
I also like to have a little nativity set which moves around. First, it’s just the animals. The on Christmas eve, when the tree has been put up and decorated, the Holy Family appears (minus one). After midnight Mass, the Baby Jesus is added to the scene. The next morning, the shepherds come to adore him. It all stays like that until the Epiphany, then the Magi get a look in – but only for a few hours, as all the decorations get packed away that evening. This year, I’m tempted to leave the nativity set out until Candlemas.
We have a very small Chapel as a parish Church, and so it gets very cramped at this time. We have proper midnight Mass, and given the size of the Church, its one of two times we use incense (the other being the Easter Vigil). Also, the Marian gothic chasuble, with an embroidered image of Our Lady of Walsingham, gets put out for the Octave. On the Octave day itself, we only get a couple of hands full of parishioners for Mass, and so most of us manage to squeeze into Father’s house next door.
Talking of nativity sets, we do manage to fit one in at Church, and like my own, the Magi move around the Church and eventually appear in the scene on Epiphany. This year for Easter, we sang the Missa de Angelis (which took some convincing I must say!), and as the congregation got some practice in, hopefully it will be done again, this time for Christmas.
At a university chaplaincy of which I am a part, we usually have a large contribution from our international community during Advent, which is quite a big event (our chaplain refuses anything related to Christmas to be brought into the proceedings; the chaplaincy itself is not open over the Christmas holiday). This year, an ‘International Mass’ means ‘sung Latin propers’, for which I am deeply thankful.
P.s. I like to enjoy goose on Christmas day.
Every Christmas Eve my family has the Feast of Seven Fishes, a Neapolitan/ Southern Italian tradition (at least in the US). The meal is based on baccala, which is salted cod fish. There are many different theories on why it is seven fishes, but it seems to be because of the holy significance of the number.
I have several young kids and they love this tradition of ours:
We put up our “Advent tree” at the beginning of Advent. There are no decorations but one purple ribbon. We printed out one piece of sacred art for each mystery of the rosary (using a photo printing service and pictures we collected online), cut and glued them onto cardstock and placed colored ribbons through holes so they can hang on the tree (each set of mysteries has their own color, e.g., gold is glorious). Then, as we move through Advent, we talk about one of the mysteries at dinner, pass the artwork around, and then hang it on the Advent tree after dinner.
The idea is to celebrate both that Christ did come and to prepare for his coming again. From this eschatological perspective, it seems fitting we also ponder the entire life of Christ in Advent.
Then, on Christmas eve (after the kiddos are asleep), we bust out the fun lights, etc.
As a dad, I like this because: (1) my kids love it; my then three year old could tell you all the mysteries of the rosary and what his “favorite” ones are. He still knows them. (2) I don’t want to celebrate Christmas before Christmas, but I also don’t want to buy a tree for only a few days. (3) Having the tree and the mystery ornaments going up really gets the kids excited and thinking, in a way I think that is appropriate to Advent specifically.
Since I was fortunate enough in 2004 to move across the street from our parish church and grade school, I have really tried to empasize Advent and downplay Christmas until Christmas Eve. I even put out a little violet and rose bunting on the porch rail as Advent progresses. My neighbors probably think I’m weird.
We go to the local Carmelite Monastery for a 10 novena (starting 10 days before Christmas) every night. There is benediction and some very beautiful hymns sung, and a procession of banners and angels (children dress up in angel wings, gowns, and halos provided by the sisters)On Christmas afternoon we all return to the Monastery for a childrens blessing. There are many smaller things we are involved in and do, but this helps us to focus on the real season CHRISTmas.
We try to have all of our Christmas shopping done before Advent.
We celebrate St. Nicholas Day with St. Nicholas bringing the kids candy and nuts and the pajamas they will wear on Christmas Eve.
We usually go to Mass on Christmas morning since we have a long commute and I can’t imagine the kids “hanging” for a Mass that ends long after midnight. But we might give it a try nonetheless.
We as a family enact “No room at the Inn” with the Bambino. The youngest carries the Italian, 12″ Bambino around the house. We are all dressed up as innkeepers or shepherds, basically wearing our bathrobes and holding staves. The child knocks at the various doors of the house, behind which is one of the family. The child asks if there is room in the Inn, and the other family members gets to say or yell “No, go away” as the child progresses to the next door. Finally, the shepherd says “Yes, come in” and we all go into the living room where the empty manger is under the tree. Then, the Bambino is placed in the manger and we say a little pray for Thanksgiving. We do this on Christmas Eve. Of course, there is some family humor here, but the message, that we accept Jesus Christ into our home, is clearly taught. Hope you like this….
P.S. We also celebrate St. Nicholas Day, as my ancestors, from Luxembourg, Bohemia and Moravia did so. We get oranges, apples, gold coins (in memory of the three dowerless girls Nicholas aided), and little presents. St. Nicholas has been known to leave a lump of coal as well….
I’ve disliked Advent calendars ever since I was presented with one where every day, we get little chocolate animals and gifts, etc….and then on Christmas, who comes? Not Jesus, but Santa. So I’m not too fond. :-) But I do think it’s kind of cute.
My family does have a little mini ceremony for Advent Sundays, with readings and lighting of candles.
We often go to both Christmas Eve Mass and Christmas Day Mass, but sometimes just one or the other. Since my sister and I are both in Catholic school, we usually have some sort of St. Nicholas Day event at school.
However my favorite part of Advent is actually the feast day of my patron saint, Lucia. I go to Mass on her feast day (13 Dec)–last year I attended a low Latin Mass (probably wrong terminology, sorry). This year I think I will go to her chapel in the Basilica in Washington, DC (where I live).
Christmas Eve is a family day with our extended family; Christmas Day is a church day and a family day; but Advent is most definitely a religious season for us. It always is, of course, but these little ceremonies and traditions add a certain significance to it.
Also, one of my favorite things about our Advent Sunday readings is that when we light the candles, each member of the family (we have 4 in our home right now, so it’s perfect) chooses a different passage to read each week. It makes the little ceremony much more personal and interesting (particularly when the twelve year old in the family has her freedom with the Bible!)–but very heartfelt.
We have a couple of advent wreaths that we cycle through. One uses standard tapered candles, one use very thin tapered candles. The very thin tapers go too quickly. At most the first candle is gone by the third Sunday of Advent. Even the standard tapered candles don’t last the whole Advent season. This year I am putting together my own set using pillar candles (3″ diameter x 6″ tall). I’ll be setting the candlesticks up on the wreath at different heights so that the candles will be even at the end of Advent. (It may take a couple of tries to find the right height offsets to use.)
Setting up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve is too much of a problem, so we compromised by setting up the tree and decorations after the fourth Sunday of Advent (although no earlier than 23 December – the day after my daughter’s birthday.) No Christmas music is allowed until Christmas Day.
I’ve got an outdoor Nativity scene that I set up in the front yard on the third Sunday of Advent – minus the infant Jesus and the Magi. At midnight Christmas Eve or very early Christmas morning, the infant Jesus is laid in the manger. The Magi are place on the opposite side of the yard. Then every couple of days the Magi are moved closer to the manger culminating with the Magi at the manger on 6 January.
Christmas decorations stay up until after 6 January. I’d like to keep the decorations up until 2 February, but that is impractical for us.
What starts the Advent season for me is that I teach a session to the RCIA class at my parish — on Advent. Imagine that! It gives me the excuse to scour local Catholic bookstores for books and resources on Advent. :)
Well, we have a paper Catholic Advent Calendar based on the creche, in which the kids stick a paper animal/person around the stable, each character having a prayer on the back. Usually done after evening prayers. We recite the “0” antiphons, and do the novena leading up to Christmas, on those particular days.
At the same time, we put up a statue each Advent Sunday in the actual creche, with a prayer and reflection on what that particular figure represents.
The empty manger is placed in there at the beginning of Advent, and everyone is invited to make sacrifices and good deeds, and for each such action, to place a “straw” in the manger to cushion the manger for Baby Jesus. We use strips of yarn, not having straw:).
Finally, of course, we have the advent wreath on the dining room table, and we say a prayer each Sunday in Advent, as the appropriate candles are lit.
For Christmas Day, we must have pork pie for breakfast, or my Father (from England) would be most upset!!!
We also love doing the blessing of the Wise men on the Epiphany.
“In defiance of all health and safety busybodies everywhere we have real candles on our Christmas tree.” Wonderful!
We have a nice creche that we’ve had for years, and lasagna for dinner usually.
A Sister that I know told me she was afraid she would be terribly lonely her first Christmas in the convent, but they had wonderful customs, one of which was a little Child Jesus (Bambinello) that you could walk by and kiss. One of the convents of their sister-order of enclosed nuns, when they had only a few sisters (maybe 10 or less) was given some Bambinelli–so many that there ere enough for each Sister in the monastery! I’m going there just after Christmas in fact and I expect it will be lovely.
Advent Wreath and Candles – yes. Several years ago, I composed a prayer booklet with a set of “propers” for each day, beginning with the Saturday night before the First Sunday. Essentially, the prayers we pray around the wreath mirror the basic structure and incorporate actual texts of the Office (e.g. Antiphon/Psalm, Lesson, Hymn, Collect).
Growing up, our family put the tree up about 10 days before Christmas. In my own family now, while I may acquire the tree in advance (usually a week before) and even decorate it, the lights will not be turned on until Christmas Eve after None. We try to keep the tree up until Jan 13th if it can last that long.
Christmas Eve dinner – yes, big yes. Coming from an Italian background, the traditional fish dinner is still observed, although in a much scaled down version. Until there are 20 people to serve dinner, it makes no sense to cook all the traditional fish entrees for just the 5 of us. Someday…
Creche – we build it gradually.
I Advent – bare stable w/ an angel
II Advent – the animals are added
III Advent – the shepherds
IV Advent – the star
Christmas Eve morning – Mary & Joseph
Christmas Eve night – Baby Jesus
Epiphany Eve night – Three Kings
At Vespers on Jan. 13th, the creche is put away in a made up custom of gradually taking it down between the psalms while chanting Vespers.
We never had the tradition of the advent wreath in our house, but there’s still a crib that I made when I was a kid that still has the dried straw for the floor that I gathered that year
(1974!) from one of the fields near the house. Gives a thrill of times past when I get it out every year, and a frisson of sadness for those no longer with us here. It never goes up until the Sunday before Christmas (or the one before if that Sunday is the 24th) when the tree goes up as well. The decorations for this include cards that we got over the years from family and friends (many now gone onwards) but which have a proper religious theme. As well as reinforcing the REAL theme of the season it’s a nice way to keep those people in memory and in our celebrations.
And one other thing is lots of holly, over pictures, on top of cupboards etc. which is still cut from the little wood where we used to go as kids with the parents. This again on the Sunday before Christmas, rain (usually) hail (usual enough) or snow (never, being Ireland)
Over the years, we have enjoyed adding many Advent traditions to our family celebration. From the earliest time in our marriage, my husband and I had an Advent wreath. As our children grew, we added the Advent calendar (we have a magnetic one with a stable painted on it and each day of December, the children open a door and take out a piece of manger scene–Mary on Dec. 8, stars, wise men, St. Joseph, and the baby Jesus on the 24th). When the oldest ones got even older, we began to collect ornaments for a Jesse tree, a small artificial tree that we place on the seasonal table in our front hall. Each night, we read a reading from the story of salvation history and add an ornament that represents the story. We have made and purchased these ornaments over the years. A few years ago, friends introduced us to the “O Antiphons” which we now add to our nightly Advent wreath prayers at the end of Advent. I made little cards of the Antiphons to place in the center of the wreath, and we sing the corresponding verse of “Veni, veni Emmanuel” along with the usual prayers on those days.
We celebrate St. Nicholas on the 6th–with treats–chocolate “gold” coins, sometimes a real coin of some kind, oranges, and a candy cane–and a note for each child from St. Nicholas praising for good acts over the year and usually recommending some area of character to work on in the coming year.
We put a greenery wreath on the door after Thanksgiving, but only decorated with a purple or rose ribbon until a few days before Christmas. The tree and lots of greenery and holly go up the 4th Sunday of Advent, but we don’t decorate until Christmas eve, and no lights can be turned on until after Midnight Mass. Baby Jesus appears in the creche during the night.
Also, on our seasonal table is an empty manger for the bambino, which the children fill with straw for each good act or sacrifice made during Advent. The baby Jesus is also place in this manger during the night. It has become a tradition among the children to go and look for Baby Jesus in the morning even before going for the gifts, and my husband and I of course encourage this. We sing him a song, then open presents.
Lots of cookies are baked in the week before Christmas, but none are eaten until the Christmas season.
We open gifts on Christmas Day, but save some for Epiphany, too. On Epiphany, we have a candlelight procession through the house singing and blessing each room. We have a mini-censor that goes with our children’s Mass set that the older children use in our procession, too.
Our tree stays up until the Baptism of the Lord and most other decorations until Candlemas, when we ask Father to bless candles for our home altar.
As you can see, we love Advent and Christmas traditions, and lots can be built up over 20 years or so to help us all keep the two seasons in their proper place. I hope we are also growing Catholic hearts in our children by keeping these traditions.
In our house the Christmas tree always goes up on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and comes down on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Where can one find Advent Music?