What are your Advent and Christmas customs?

First, I’ll remind you, please, when shopping via Amazon, use my search box on the sidebar.  I’ll get a small percentage of each item you get.  I have no way of seeing who buys what, by the way.  Get your shopping done now so you don’t have to fret as Christmas draws nearer.  Keep those last spiritually and liturgically heavy days unburdened by that stuff.

However, there are other things to prepare as well.   Do you have certain personal or family customs for Christmas time?

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 an Advent calendar?

Are there any other things you do, or don’t do, for Advent?  Remember, it is a time of penance, too.

Do you listen to Christmas music before Christmas or wait until after?

When do you put up your tree and when do you decorate it?

Do you eat fish on Christmas Eve?  Pork hocks and lentils after Christmas?  Goose?

Do you bake cookies?

Do you have stockings at the mantle or a creche?

Does the youngest child put the star or angel on the tree?

What happens in your parishes?  Are there food and clothing and toy drives?

Maybe some discussion here can help other people think, in advance, about Christmas, which is fast approaching.

I’m just askin’.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. CradleRevert says:

    Through Advent, my wife and I have been lighting the Advent wreath and reading the daily meditations from “Divine Intimacy” by Fr. Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, OCD. As our daughter gets older, we’ll eventually have to find some other prayerful custom which is more engaging for her (she’s less than a year old now).

    No Christmas music during Advent.

    We haven’t put any decorations up yet other than Christ-less Nativity scenes and a stocking on the mantle for our daughter. We’ll start putting all the decorations up the week before Christmas, with the compromise being that we don’t actually turn on any of the lights until Christmas. We plan to buy our tree tomorrow, but again we won’t start decorating it until next week.

    As the parent of a young child, I’m curious to hear from other parents how they handle the whole Santa Claus or Christkind traditions. Personally, I don’t see any way to square those traditions with the Church’s teaching about lying, so we plan to avoid that custom as our daughter and future children get older.

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  3. Andreas says:

    As one might expect, here in Austria music plays a major role in our Advent traditions. As we travel the days through Advent toward Christmas, there is still much music to be made and heard here in our village. It is not of the gay celebratory nature as heard in the US and England; rather, it reflects the serene reflective anticipatory quiet as we wait for the birth of Our Lord. On Wintery crisp third Advent evenings here in Pinswang, one can also hear this wonderful music at what are called ‘Adventsingen’ when instrumentalists and singers from this area gather to perform programs of music composed just for this season. There are, on occasion, readings of short stories and poems and children from our village or nearby Musau perform a short nativity play. The Adventsingen lasts for about 60-minutes or so. Thereafter, we gather in the Widum (rectory) for some light refreshments (including the splendid Glühwein..hot spices red wine) and some time to chat with Pfarrer Simon and neighbors. The Adventsingen is a treasured Advent tradition here in the Tirol and especially our tiny village. For those who are unable to attend one, the Bayerische Rundfunk (Bavarian broadcaster) televises an Adventsingen from a church in Bavaria or Austria each year. To see and hear what one is like, an example can be found at: http://www.br.de/mediathek/video/sendungen/unter-unserem-himmel/unter-unserem-himmel112~_all-1_-17427f5dafb510f83952dcca24b80f3e70c4478f.html

  4. Cafea Fruor says:

    I eschew listening to the radio, because most stations are all Christmas already. And I’ve switched to doing my shopping almost exclusively online because I don’t want to be bombarded with “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” every single time I walk in a store. But hey, at least we haven’t started to hear “Mullin’ Around the Minaret”, so maybe I should be glad it’s at least remotely Christmas-ish and not some Christmahannakwanzikah mish-mash…

    I put out my creche, but I don’t put Jesus out yet, since it’s still Advent. And I decorate little by little. I used to avoid decorating at all until Christmas Eve, but at this time of year, I’m usually swamped at work, overtired, half numb, and feel like it’s still October, so I need a little something to help me realize Christmas is actually coming. So starting the second week of Advent, I might out out a couple of candles and hang a couple of ornaments on my plants (my apartment’s much too small for a tree). Then the next week, I might hang some lights but not turn them on yet, etc.

    For Advent, I try to come up with a resolution or two, kind of like in Lent. Like maybe reading more Scripture each day, or working on some virtue in which I’m deficient, or having more silence.

    Other than that, my Christmas customs are whatever is going on at my parents’ house – I’m the only one in my family left in my city, so I have to travel to see family. And we singletons don’t get a whole lot of say if it’s not in our house and don’t have kids involved. :-/

  5. When I was growing up, until I left home, my dad would take us into the woods and we would cut down a tree that had lost its leaves. This was our Jesse Tree. We bought construction paper and made symbols that represented biblical figures and situations that took place before the birth of Christ. We strung popcorn and cookies on the tree. Dad would place an empty manger(usually and old shoe box)under the tree and he would put a stack of pine needles next to it. He would tell us that if we did a good deed to take a pine needle and place it in the manger. If we did something naughty we had to be on our honor and remove a pine needle. The object of this was to see how comfortable we could make baby Jesus on Christmas morning.

    I have done this as well with my kids and with one of my grand daughters.
    Here is a photo of the last one I was present for at home in 1972

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    At the end of Fall term’s exam week, we eat Swedish meatballs and watch ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ followed by ‘White Christmas’. Not sure this is what you had in mind, but, heck, it’s what we do. :)

  7. Former Altar Boy says:

    Our first “Christmas” custom was to have an Advent wreath in the house. In fact, it was common for must Catholic homes in the past-WWII, pre-Vat2 years, and the Boy Scout troop made their camping money by assembling and selling advent wreaths to sell after Sunday Masses. As kids, it was special because we got to “play with fire,” i.e. light a match. The first week, the father lights the candle says the prayers; the second week the oldest child (me!) does it; the third week the youngest child (too bad, so sad for brothers 2, 3 and 4!). I forgot who did the fourth week.

    I tried to encourage our FSSP pastor to revive the custom but, being young, he believed the Advent wreath was a Vat2 phenomenon and poo-pooed it.

  8. MarianF says:

    CradleRevert, my husband and I decided not to do the Santa Claus thing, precisely because–while we think it is fine to read stories or watch movies with Santa as a fictional character–telling the children that he comes and delivers the gifts is very simply a lie. I remember finding out the truth about Santa, and I felt absolutely betrayed. I was not disappointed to lose the fantasy of Santa–only stunned to learn that my parents had put so much effort into making me believe something they knew was not true. I do not want to do the same to my kids. Also, my husband and I want Christmas to be Christ-centered, not Santa-centered. Finally, we want our kids to know that gifts do not appear magically; they are provided by loved ones, sometimes with sacrifice involved. As a bonus, we don’t have to “cover our tracks” and come up with answers to questions about how he gets to every house in one night, why some kids don’t get gifts from Santa, etc. Telling the truth is so much simpler! We do teach them about St. Nicholas and explain how stories about him turned into Santa legends, that some families have fun pretending Santa is real, and that they shouldn’t spoil the fun for those kids who believe. So far, so good.

    As for the rest, we have an Advent calendar, Advent wreath (with a Nativity scene in the center–Jesus is added Christmas morning), and Jesse tree. We have lots of picture books we read in preparation for Christmas, and yes, we do listen to Christmas music during Advent. We also have an empty manger with bits of “hay” (yarn) nearby. When someone does a loving act or makes a sacrifice during Advent, he or she puts a piece of “hay” in the manger. The goal is to make a nice soft bed for baby Jesus, whom we lay inside on Christmas morning. We’ll get our tree next week and put the angel on top, but we will not add the other ornaments until Christmas Eve. I tell the kids it is an “Advent tree” until it is decorated, when it turns into a Christmas tree. :)

  9. Ah…Christmas traditions…

    Tree up after 4th Sunday in Advent…not lit (excepting to test to make sure all the bulbs are working) until Christmas Eve, along with the candles in the window. Creche has no infant until eve.

    Starting in October…make the burbon balls (crushed vanilla wafers, cocoa, melted butter, sugar, and bourbon, roll into balls about 1/2 size of a golf ball, dredge in powdered sugar, put in tins, and freeze until day before ready to consume.

    Week before Christmas: start making the tourtiere (french-canadian meat pie) for Christmas Eve dinner and cretons (pork spread) for breakfast on crusty fresh baked bread whilst opening gifts (these days, as much exchanging gift cards as anything else…) and drinking fortified tea (Earl Grey with a dollop of brandy).

    NO Christmas music (I don’t listen to OTA radio for just that reason…) before Christmas Eve.

    Midnight Mass. No substitute, if you can do it. And my parish actually celebrates it at Midnight, not 8PM or some such. Preceeded by 45 minutes of lessons and carols. Full smells and bells. That’s when, for me, it’s finally Christmas.

  10. PA mom says:

    I did Advent calendars for five years, then as my oldest was in 6th grade covering the Old Testament, I printed out coloring Jesse tree ornaments and we did that instead.
    While my family put our tree up Christmas Eve, my husband’s family (not Catholic) had theirs up not long after Thanksgiving, so Guadete Sunday has been the very pleasant compromise, with Harry Connick Jr and Bing Crosby singing in the background and all the children helping.
    There are gift trees at our parish which are refilled and still emptied, with gift requests for children of prisoners from our local county, something we always gladly do, and the Boy Scouts collect dinners.
    As far as Santa Claus goes, I have explained to my children that it is St Nicholas, taught them about him, and they expect a single gift from him each year. As my oldest came to question this, I explained quite clearly how St Nicholas is alive in the communion of saints, inspiring people to this day with genuine generosity in their hearts, and that she needs to remember it as this. Not greed and selfishness but attentiveness to others and purposeful warmth of heart.
    And we do have multiple nativity scenes, a Playmobil and the adult one.

  11. Mary Jane says:

    CradleRevert, my husband and I have young children also (5 children 5 years old and under, to be exact :) and we don’t do the Santa thing…I absolutely love what MarianF wrote above – we feel the same, and my experience with Santa was similar to what she described. So, no Santa here. Hubby and I told the kids the story of St. Nicholas, and they know presents under the tree on Christmas morning are put there by mom and dad.

    As far as our Advent customs, we put up the stockings and the tree and the Nativity scene on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We try to avoid Christmas music during Advent (and listen to Advent music instead). We light the Advent candles (the right ones :) during the evening family rosary. Hubby and I used to attend Midnight Mass, but as I said above, we have 5 children 5 years old and under, so sleep is something of a precious commodity at our house…Midnight Mass isn’t feasible for us anymore…but we do attend and sing for the (sometimes Solemn) High Mass on Christmas morning.

  12. AnnTherese says:

    I have an Advent wreath that I make fresh each year (clippings from a tree in my yard!). One night a week I invite friends to my home for a half hour of quiet reflection, music, and prayer by candlelight, followed by social time and treats. I get a small live tree at the beginning of December, but decorate it (and my house) slowly throughout Advent. I put up fewer decorations each year, and none outdoors. I have a small nativity set that I bought my first year out of college. I send cards, some years they are handmade. I usually bake cookies, but if I don’t get to it, no pressure. I do love Advent and Christmas music.

    When I was very young, my mom would help me weave a paper basket, and each time I did something kind or helpful, we would cut out and color a paper flower to put in the basket, with the goal of having a basket overflowing with flowers to give to Jesus on Christmas. She would stop whatever she was doing to help me make a flower. She did this with me from the ages of 3-5, and I remember vividly how I looked for opportunities to be kind or helpful to a sibling, my mom and dad, grandmothers, neighbors, and friends. This tradition lovingly led by my mother instilled in me a lifelong desire to serve others, forgive, be patient, etc.– joyfully, for Jesus. To this day it remains my most meaningful Advent memory and practice.

  13. un-ionized says:

    I always ask if I can come over and look at somebody’s tree because I don’t have one. This year my friend with the really great tree has died but I have great memories. I am sending Christmas cards this year so people will know that even though I have disappeared from the parish I haven’t moved away. I use Advent to gear up for the experience of being alone at the holidays and trying to figure out what to do for people. There is always somebody who needs something.

  14. EMF says:

    Advent calendar – with religious readings
    Goose ! Goose ! Goose !, with raisin stuffing, sometimes with some railroad strawberries as well. Red cabbage. potatoes.
    Mincemeat pie with hard sauce
    Cookies up the Elbe
    Bourbon balls, also rum balls – prepared in advance
    fruitcake: dark: nuts, raisins, figs, dates, no/very little candied fruit, soaking in bourbon or rum
    Nuts in the living room for cracking
    morning coffee with chocolate whipped cream

    For quite a while we would go and see the Nutcracker on Christmas Eve. Otherwise, Christmas Eve service

  15. jaykay says:

    Tree and crib up… which I made when I was 14 out of salvaged – ok, stolen – wood from a building site. Offcuts anyway, so ok :) And blessed with Holy Water, I always do that. When I was a kid, we always went with my father to gather holly from a local wood, which was put up behind all the pictures. And the berries always fell off rapidly! All this used to happen usually about a week before Christmas, my mother having made puddings and cake around 8th December. They were in the larder, covered, and never went off. The smell when you opened the door was a foretaste of Christmas. The 8th was a big day in Ireland back then, not a public holiday as in parts of Europe but always a day off school for kids. Country people came into the cities to do their present-shopping. Mass attendance was universal, of course. Nowadays – not so much. O tempora, etc. Being as I sing in a number of choirs I’m already suffused in the music, with two concerts coming later this week. Love it all.

  16. jaykay says:

    Forgot to say… made the puddings and boiled them up today, using my mother’s recipe – and great-grandmother’s big china bowl, which has somehow survived the generations. They’ve turned out well, DG.

  17. iamlucky13 says:

    Our Polish grandmother always made clam chowder on Christmas Eve, along with pickled herring as a side, which half the family considers a treat and half a travesty.

    After it ceased being a day of fast and abstinence, she also added kielbasa. I’ve told myself a couple times the abstinence is discipline worth continuing, but kielbasa is a particularly hard tradition to give up.

    The parish I grew up at always had a lively potluck and wreath-making-and-blessing party on the first Sunday of Advent. Our current parish, unfortunately, does not.

    Our tree never went up until the 22nd, because the wreath is for Advent, while the tree is for Christmas. Since getting married, I was forced to make a compromise, so now it goes up on or after Gaudete Sunday.

    We were allowed to see what “Santa” brought before Mass in the morning, but the presents from each other had to wait until after Mass.

    The nativity scene gets put up along with the tree, but the manger stays empty until Christmas. The wise men journey around the house until reaching the manger on Epiphany.

    My wife and I have in the past read a daily readings together during Advent, but I’m afraid I failed to start that up again so far this year as I’ve been extremely pre-occupied with work. I’ll try to remember to fit it in.

    Christmas cards we receive decorate the hallway for the season.

  18. Sliwka says:

    My wife and I have a wreath and light candles at each dinner at home. My eldest (3) has only burned her hair once. We also eat with less light. We’ve been singing some Advent songs before bed too but secular Christmas songs are on a lot (my wife really likes them and then post Nativity it is mostly real carols). We are also doing a Jesse Tree and the eldest “gets” it. Not having been raised Catholic going through the history of Gods Covenants has been fun for me too. I use as many songs as I can as tie ins (for example the Story of Redemption ones from ccwatershed YouTube or a Psalm for David) and readings from her Bible paraphrase book. Lastly going through the Joyful Mysteries (one every night for a week or so) to teach them. I’m also trying but often failing to fast.

  19. Sliwka says:

    Ah, we also do a toy purge before Christmas and this year the child will have to help pick some of her own toys to give away. We are also going to give away some of our clothes too.

  20. MrsMacD says:

    My eldest is nearly 14 and this is the first year we bought gifts for our children as far as I can recall. We tried to do like Fr. Z suggested and bought most of them before advent.

    My 12 year old had a point when she mentioned that the ‘Christmas’ music is better than what they usually play in the stores.

    When I was little we used to write letters to Baby Jesus and put them under the crib for when He came but I’m trying to teach my children not to long for the goods of this earth, so I think writting Chistmas lists is a spiritual step backwards. (That said we were poor and I often got everything on my list, and my parents had never looked at the list and the gifts came from strangers!)

    This year we have a manger that we made out of clementine boxes and some sticks of wood, when the children do an act of Charity they get to put a straw in the manger. We bought the most lifelike doll we could find and wrapped it with cheesecloth/gauze, reserved for Christmas day. We also made an individual manger per child with wood glue and popcicle sticks and peg dolls and gauze.

    We also have a Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary are travelling, outside the creche, the cow is eating from the manger, the kings are on a far distant bookshelf in the same room. On Christmas Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and the sheepherd will be in the manger, plus decorations, angels and lights.

    We usually do our tree plus decorations on Gaudete Sunday. This year I’ve been thinking it would be great manly fun for the boys to go chop down a tree at a christmas tree nursery, and for that we’ll wait ’till closer to Christmas. Daddy lifts the youngest to put up the star. I divide the ornaments into paper bags and let the children each put some decorations on.

    We usually do a family penance of putting away all the toys until Christmas. And say St. Andrew’s novena. We attend and help with the Rorate Mass when we can.

    One year we had so many gifts I gave them out one day at a time through much of Christmas. We eat a pretty basic fare (oatmeal, apple, peanut butter, soup with bread) and for Christmas it’s a little more extravagant.

    I really like to make gingerbread men and houses with my children but I am often too sick. Perhaps I can get more help from my children with that this year.

    Tortiere after real midnight Mass and caroling for 1hr before Mass (I remember doing midnight Mass with 5 children age 5 and under it’s part of the real ‘magic’ of Christmas). My favourite surprise is when my children wonder how the home altar got decorated and the gifts appeared under the tree while we were gone. I bring chocolate bars or chocolate granola bars, dried sausage and pop for after midnight Mass. (We rarely have pop, almost never, it’s a real treat.). Great fun all around and my children love it.

    In the past we played music but we don’t really have a decent music player right now. Though my children are always singing and we tell them to save the Christmas songs for Christmas. They really do sound lovely sometimes. Live music os better.

  21. RAve says:

    In honor of the shepherds in the field, 20 years ago we created a tradition of making shepherd’s pie to pop in the oven after Christmas eve Mass. It is easy, and half of the meat is lamb, which is also symbolic.

    We also bake Springerle cookies using a replica of an very old crèche scene. The dough has ammonia salt (formerly a common leavening) in it to help keep the shape of the mold perfect even during baking. Each cookie is a masterpiece of the Holy Family at Christmas.

    Finally, its not Christmas without making the Slovenian specialty nut roll called Potica. We all sit down to eat that with orange juice and coffee and fruit and yogurt and sausages before we open presents (after the kids line up in order on the stairs).

    We also light the twirling German Christmas pyramids (Weinachtspyramid) and incense smoker while it is still dark in the morning to set the mood of wonder and delight.

  22. RAve says:

    Almost forgot: we go to the churchyard where my son’s columbarium is with our Austrian friends and light a candle and sing a German carol on Christmas eve in the German and Austrian custom. It is a beautiful way to keep our loved ones part of our holiday celebration. Later that week we visit them at their home and they light real candles on their tree and we sing German carols. It is quite beautiful and reminds us of our 6 Christmas seasons in Germany.

  23. ZCGP says:

    My family, among numerous other things, holds dear the Polish tradition of the oplatek. This is basically a wafery thing with a nativity scene impressed on it which the oldest member of the household breaks and then passes on to the next. It has a focus on the Bread of Life symbolism of Christ.

  24. Geoffrey says:

    The crèche (“presepio” in Portuguese) goes up after First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent, with the Infant placed in it after the Christmas “Mass during the Night”. We also have an Advent Wreath, and light the appropriate candles every Saturday or Sunday evening.

    The Christmas tree goes up around December 8. This year we got it on December 11 / Gaudete Sunday. Lights just went on it today, and decorating will commence whenever there is a spare moment. Tinsel is added on Christmas Eve, usually after First Vespers.

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  26. Persistant says:

    We have an Advent wreath on our table and something similar (but without the candles) on our front door. We do all the Christmas decorations (including the tree) on Christmas Eve. It is a custom in Croatia to fast on Christmas Eve, or at least to abstain from meat so we have some fish for lunch (codfish is popular). We also prepare a small nativity scene under the tree with fresh moss from a nearby forest. We try to keep our Croatian Christmas traditions. One of them is that children (in this case me and my brother who aren’t really children anymore :) ) on Christmas Eve, usually aftrer all the work is done and before we go to Midnight Mass bring in three small pieces of wood with Crosses carved on it (they are called Badnjak, also Croatian name for Cristmas Eve), the whole family prays and then we put the Badnjaks in the fireplace, thus bringing the light and warmth of Christmas to our home. For the past several years we’ve also helped to prepare our parish church for Christmas, usually on Dec. 23. There’s no Christmas music until Christmas Eve, only on Church choir rehersals :)

  27. Persistant says:

    I forgot to add, today on st. Lucy’s feast day, in Croatia we traditionally plant wheat seeds in small bowls, so that the young green wheat, symbol of life, grows until Christmas and is placed below the Christmas tree next to the nativity scene or on the family table.

  28. JonPatrick says:

    No Christmas music, we usually play Advent at Ephesus and the first part of Handel’s Messiah. Tree will probably go up this weekend and nativity set Christmas Eve. Some of us give up things for Advent, I am giving up desserts, not as strict as during Lent, We will also observe the Ember Days this week. At Christmastime, since my family’s background is English we will make fruit cake and Trifle. (My family was never big on the traditional Christmas pudding so we don’t have that tradition). I also made mince pies for Gaudete Sunday as a treat. Some of us will go to the OF Midnight Mass then we will all go to the 8 AM EF Christmas morning Mass.

  29. Mariana2 says:

    This is a report from Scandinavia, but having been brought up im deutschen Sprachgebiet my Advent is bit of a a mish-mash.

    It’s Sankta Lucia today, very important for all of us. In the days before the Gregorian calendar this was the darkest time of the year, and Lucy with her candles and light was most welcome. I have brought out my wooden German (from Seiffen) Lucy statue.

    The Christ-less crib, with ox and ass, has been up since First Advent. The Three Wise Men are travelling through our living room, with camels, and will arrive at the crib on Epiphany. Shepherds with sheep and a dog are are moving around the crib. An angel with a piece of cloth bearing the legend Gloria will arrive with the Christ Child. The crib contains a music box which plays Stille Nacht.

    There is a second crib in the kitchen.

    Our Polish PP only celebrates Pasterka, Midnight Mass (from 10PM until 2 in the morning), on Christmas Eve. My Lutheran husband, and my son refuse to attend, it’s too much for them, and as there is no Mass during the day or even late afternoon there is no Mass for me on Christmas Eve, which is very sad.

    St. Nicholas comes on the 6th, he brings nuts, mandarins and chocolate coins, but also a Fitze (a sort of thin broom) with which to threaten children who haven’t been good.

    Music is very important, mostly German, and in the style described by Andreas above.

    Music and lights are the most important ingredients to Advent here.

    The tree will go up about two days before Christmas eve. It’s plastic and I love it, no more endless hoovering of pine needles till next August!

  30. LarryW2LJ says:

    We have an Advent Wreath which we light for each dinner, except for this year – only dinner on Sundays. For some reason, the candles I got this year seem to be burning way fast. The “first candle” is now only a teeny tiny stub. (Next year I have to remember to get the dripless candles, they seem to last longer).

    Even though it’s still Advent, we do play Christmas Carols via Pandora, but I tune in the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas station, which I would say is about 90% non-secular and all instrumental. No “Santa Baby” in my house …….. ever.

    Tree and creche are up. We get the tree after December starts before it gets too rainy or cold. Both stockings and a small creche are on the mantle in the “rec room”. My Father’s family’s Nativity set, which was handed down to me gets prominent placement in the living room. Each of my two children have a baby Jesus in the manger figurine that goes in their rooms. They were a Christmas present from their Babci (my Mom) when they were babies.

    Christmas Eve in our house is a day of abstinence. We celebrate the Polish Wigilia customary Christmas Eve dinner without meat. My kids have taken a liking to pierogi, so we usually have some potato or cheese pierogi along with some kind of fish.

    We go to Midnight Mass. This year it’s a Makoski Family Christmas, as I will be one of the readers, my daughter sings with the adult choir now and my son is one of the Altar Servers. My wife will be in the pews. After Mass this year, I have signed up to help the Pastoral Council hand out Matthew Kelly books to the parishioners as they leave Mass – a Christmas gift from our parish to the parishioners.

    On Christmas Day, we go to my sister’s house, which is about an hour away. There we will break the oplatek wafer and there’s always a bowl of Kielbasa and sauerkraut as a side dish, with whatever happens to be for dinner.

    Cookies – oh yes, plenty of cookies. Chocolate chip, peanut butter with Hershey’s kisses and this year I am going to attempt kolachki again. I failed miserably last year with those.

  31. Sonshine135 says:

    We have a mix of Advent hymns and Christmas music in the house. I think this influenced by the secular celebrations surrounding Christmas. For instance, I have heard of many Catholic families who never decorated for Christmas until Christmas Eve. On the other hand, I consider decorating part of my advent preparations for the Lord’s Nativity. I do rue how Christmas seems to end in the secular world though, linked to Christmas shopping as it is, just as it begins for the faithful.

    I let the kids, now teenagers and a Seminarian, decorate the Christmas tree. That has changed over the years. I was once the one who decorated it, and when the kids were small, they would hand me the ornaments. I think the training paid off, because the Seminarian went and decorated the Bishop’s tree this year.

    I once decorated in colorful lights, but this year, I changed it up. I went with white lights outside, and said Seminarian helped on the roof. It looks nice. I also found a decently priced statue of the Holy Family, which I am pleased to add to my decor this year. I still would love life sized nativity figures, but a nice nativity costs you about as much a new compact car.

    The last thing, but certainly not least- as much church as possible!!!! Be it helping out, going to Mass, going to Confession, or Christmas get-togethers, we are there! There would be no Christmas and no need for Advent without Christ or the Mass.

  32. Charles E Flynn says:

    I go to midnight mass, then in the morning, watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and listen to the latest remastering of one of the truly great recordings: Cantate Domino, recorded in Sweden.

  33. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Not a tradition, but iamlucky13’s reference to daily readings prompts me to mention that one year I followed Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace (Volume I: Advent to Candlemas) day by day with much instruction and delight.

    Lacking Vespers to attend, we have tended to listen to recordings of Gregorian O Antiphons (lots of choice on YouTube) – and various polyphonic settings of them, such as Charpentier’s and Pärt’s – flanking various settings of the Magnificat, day by day when the time comes.

    Sliwka mentioned ccwatershed on YouTube – acquaintance with which I just made last night, searching for Propers for Our Lady of Gaudalupe – it looks full of good things!

    A joyful St. Lucy’s to all!

  34. Joe in Canada says:

    RAve; when I lived in Winnipeg I discovered that some Mennonites made cookies with baking ammonia instead of baking powder to help the cookies rise and be crispy. I didn’t know anyone else in the world did that!

  35. downyduck says:

    Advent wreath, put up tree and decor last Sunday of Advent, eschewing all things secular- such as music, social media, talk radio, websites, movies… love listening to the Monks of Norcia and Stift Heiligenkreuz and of course the First Advent Playlist on Ustream by Fr. Z. Those first violin strains of O Come, O Come Emmanuel have marked the beginning of Advent for the past several years for me.

    After years of threatening, our family has finally left the NO parish to which we belonged for 16 years. The masses have grown increasingly loud and silly, but the final straw was when a lay woman gave the “homily” to ask for money…. then received applause after her “speech.” My husband and I were dumbfounded, but of course everyone else thought it was just lovely. So for now we are attending an Anglican Use Low Mass 45 minutes away. New year, new beginnings.

  36. juergensen says:

    Growing up, my family – dad, mom, two boys and three girls – would pile into our Ford station wagon the first Friday night of December, drive to the Boys Club to buy a tree, throw the tree on the roof of the wagon, head over to a barbecue joint for ribs, then go back home to trim the tree. I resuscitated this tradition with my wife and three kids. Today, my kids (15, 18, 20) wait all year for this day, saying it is their favorite day of the year, just us. I tend to agree, being one of the few days during the Thanksgiving to Christmas period when there are no in-laws around. :)

  37. That Guy says:

    2 years ago after Christmas, when Walmart was dumping all their LED light strings, I bought 4 strands. I spray painted 3 purple, and 1 rose. So I line one windowpane each weekend. They’re kind of homely, and the neighbors probably wonder what the heck its all about (none have asked yet). We’ll take them down on Christmas and then put up the other outdoor lights.

    Aside from that, Advent wreath with bible readings, singing “O Come Emmanuel” after dinner. Tree gets purchased on Gaudete, and decorated (I lost that battle, but my wife isn’t crazy about the Advent lights” so it works out). Nativities are set out sans Baby Jesus.

  38. WGS says:

    As to the Advent wreath prayers, my elder daughter uses the quite yellowed copy that most likely came with an Advent wreath fifty or so years ago. Her current wreath is surely more presentable than would be that original wreath.

    However, more significant was our practice of gift giving. There would be special surprise gifts from Santa Claus to the children on St. Nicholas Day. Then, on Christmas Day, one person would give out the wrapped presents one-by-one from under the Christmas tree. And on the Feast of the Epiphany, the Wise Men (of undetermined number) would bring presents which might be considered especially valuable – e.g. jewelry for the girls.

    obviously all providing for a bit of catechesis!

  39. Thorfinn says:

    We acknowledge Santa Claus but celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day (with a big party with other families and gifts from St. Nicholas) and cast Santa within the tradition of the saint. (Santa doesn’t bring gifts at Christmas.) Another local family hosts a huge Las Posadas event and another family is planning something for Epiphany. We have a beautiful Candlemas (Mass) and I wish we had a local Rorate Mass during Advent.

    We display multiple nativity scenes, at first with only the animals present. We have been slacking on this, but the intent is to parade the three kings around the house singing We Three Kings by flashlight (sometimes we sing it in bed — the beautiful illustrated book by Gennady Spirin shows gloriously by flashlight) . We nightly sing the Marian antiphon of the season – Alma Redemptoris Mater – at bedtime. And we pick one new carol to teach the kids each year: this year, Adeste Fideles.
    One tree goes up for Advent, the second tree just before Christmas. On Christmas Eve we read the Christmas Story from the gospels and Texas Night Before Christmas.

    One tradition Sigrid Undset writes about (“Happy Times in Norway”) is to turn off all electric lights on Christmas Eve and only have candlelight. We haven’t tried this yet but I can imagine it would make a tremendous impact.

  40. capchoirgirl says:

    I don’t have an advent calendar now, but I did as a child and up through high school (the German club sold ones with German chocolate pieces!). Grew up with an Advent wreath and I keep one now. The wreath is lit for lauds and vespers (I’m a lay Dominican so I say the LOH), and any other hours I pray throughout the day. I say the St. Andrew novena, too.

    The crib goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving. In my parish, it goes up the evening of the Immaculate Conception. We have quite a large display. No Baby Jesus in either set until Christmas Eve. At my parish, the crib is blessed at the 4:00 Vigil Mass–the Children’s Mass. My tree usually goes up right after Thanksgiving. My parents’ house still has all our stockings, since the three of us kids are there for Christmas Day.

    At church, there are solemn Advent vespers every Sunday evening, and a lessons and carols concert on Gaudete Sunday. Many people go to confession, myself included, but that’s pretty common at my parish; it does ramp up, though, in Advent. We chant the Pater Noster and at Christmas Midnight Mass, the creed is also chanted, in Latin. There are KofC clothing drives, as well as a drive for baby shoes, and there’s usually a Catholic book/media sale at the beginning of the month, as well as a St. Nicholas Day party.

    I listen to Advent and Christmas music. I love the music so much that I can’t wait for it, and I basically play it until Candlemas, which is also when my creche and my parish’s creche come down. We have a special Candlemas Mass with some traditional Dominican components. Our church also offers blessed chalk for Epiphany.

    My family is Italian, German, and Scots-Irish; when my father’s mom was alive, we had the feast of seven fishes, but SADLY I was much too young to partake. The only food traditions we have now are shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve (after dinner) and then the breakfast of cinnamon rolls and sausage in the morning after we open our gifts. If I remember, I make St. Lucia buns, which I did a few times as a teenager, for her feast today.

    As far as Santa–I “believed” in him as a kid. My parents talked about him; Dad ate the cookies and left us a note each year, until we figured out it was Dad’s handwriting. We left food for the reindeer, too. I see this as on par with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, or even costumed Mickey/Minnie Mouse.

  41. Adorista says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading about all the ethnic customs people have! So many rich traditions. My parents were Christian, though not religious, and my husband’s family was pagan, so we have had to learn as we go with Christmas customs. We both had secular-type “Christmas” memories to work with. For our family, we have an advent wreath and multiple calendars. We buy gifts for all the various giving-trees we get tags for. Because our daughter’s birthday is Dec. 6th, there’s a lot of time and attention that goes into that feast day, and only the following week do we turn our attention to the (now pressing) need to Christmas shop. We did do Santa Claus with all our kids, but I have to say, it was not a wise choice, and was driven mainly by the desire to fit in with our larger culture, so, the night before last, I consoled a very tearful nine year old who finally found out the truth. Yeah, I feel great about myself.

    I have started to see, and maybe this is a grace, that you can’t really reach out to your kids with the Gospel if you are a poorly formed Christian. So, I have been making some changes, like going to a Holy Hour every week, reading the Bible, and going to Confession more frequently. These are habits I’m stepping up during Advent. I don’t know yet where we’ll go to Mass. I’d like to go to Midnight Mass, but we’ll see what time and family cooperation allows.

  42. Polycarpio says:

    We have a five year old daughter. For the past three Christmases, she has been in a ballet production of The Nutcracker, and we attended one the year before that. We put up a Christmas tree and decorate our house with outside Christmas lights, wreaths, mistletoe and other conventional American Christmas décor right after Thanksgiving. We put a nativity scene at the same time, but the Christ Child does not go in until midnight Christmas eve. In our Latin American tradition, a lot of emphasis goes into Dec. 24, which is called “Nochebuena.” I was baptized and had my First Communion on that day. I remember that Dec. 24, 1977; I made my confession in the morning, and tried to remain in a state of grace all day. My grandmother (who raised me) was so committed to the principle, that I was literally quarantined with a couple of other kids who had also made their confessions and kept indoors with them, not being allowed to play with other kids who were not making their First Communion that night. That experience set the standard for me of what Christmas Eve signifies, and the spiritual disposition of one who awaits the coming of their Lord.

  43. L. says:

    I usually wonder who came up with the idea of a “Jesse Tree,” which I, perhaps unfairly, associate with burlap banners. Nevertheless, I always recall the heartwarming story our former pastor told about inviting children to make Bible story-related ornaments for the parish Jesse Tree. One little boy had a plate with a baby doll’s head glued to it, with fake blood around it. “What is this supposed to be?” “The head of John the Baptist, of course.”

  44. PTK_70 says:

    Sending saturnos to clerics…it’s a new tradition, starting probably tomorrow.

  45. Worm-120 says:

    At home we listen to some Christmas and advent music no earlier that two weeks to Christmas. We used to all go out in the morning on Christmas Eve and chop down a tree, the youngest got to pick, and we decorate it in the evening. We do an advent wreath and a nativity scene. We bake hermits, gingerbread men, and shortbread. Christmas Eve we play monopoly and for unknown reasons our Christmas movie is Charlie Dickinsons’ “Oliver Twist”.

  46. Genevieve says:

    We do an Advent wreath, of course, and sing hymns while it is lit. We save O Come, O Come Emmanual for the Golden Nights. We’ve combined the advent calendar with the Jesse tree. The children pull an ornament out from behind a little door each day, hang the ornament on a bare branch, and we read the scripture aloud.

    We get a gift for the Angel tree at parish, usually an elderly person in a nursing home. Our KofC chapter collects canned goods during the community Christmas parade, so we’re sure to bring pantry items with us to that so that we can give to those men as they march.

    We’ve told the children that Santa Claus is a fairy tale based on the true story of St. Nicholas. On St. Nicholas Eve, we say special prayers to St. Nicholas and they write a letter to him and in the mornings find chocolate coins in their shoes. This year my four year old wanted to try to say special prayers to St. Nicholas a second night in order to find more chocolate the next morning. ?
    We listen to Advent at Epheseus in the car instead of the radio, but I do allow secular Christmas songs on Sunday’s. I save Christmas carols for Christmas except if we are at a public event that has caroling. I generally don’t think people sing enough in public gatherings so I’m not going to bah humbug any attempt at that, even if it means singing Joy to the World in mid-December. We visit our community’s life sized nativity display during the second week of Advent and sing Away in a Manger.

    We attend our parish celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe and put silk poinsettia flowers around an image we have of her at home. If I’m really on the ball, I might cook Mexican for supper that night.

    On St. Lucy, we put up our outdoor lights and candles in the windows.

    At home, I’m still collecting nativities, but we have one for the foyer, kitchen, dining room, and family room. They fancy set has the empty manger where the children add their straw according to good deeds. Gaudete Sunday is our community Nativity Festival- a local church displays dozens of nativities that community members have lent. We have quite the international collection! It’s a beautiful event and my very favorite hometown Christmas event.

    On the fourth weekend, we take the children up to a tree farm to cut down our tree. We sing O Tennenbaum after the tree blessing. I make Christmas bread to share with friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

    We try to have at least three fish dishes on Christmas Eve. We read Christmas Stories like Gift of the Magi, Why the Animals Talk, The Christmas Truce, and of course the Gospel. At midnight we have a toast, sing carols, and put the Infant in the manger.

    On Christmas morning, we attend a 9am Mass, open stockings, and have a huge breakfast with country ham, bacon, and sausage!

    We like to travel to see dear friends during Christmastide and then open larger gifts (if any) on the 12th night.

  47. Elizabeth M says:

    I tried the no Christmas music / no decorations before Christmas Eve for 2 years and I found myself depressed in December, not joyfully expecting. The overly somber mood infected the children too. Now we begin decorating slowly adding a little each day or week and by after Mass on Christmas morning it feels like a completed work and happy celebration.
    I try to have 90% of my shopping done before the 1st Sunday of Advent.
    Some favorite secular songs get put into the rotation: Snoopy & the Red Baron and Dominic the Donkey. I do have a CD of “jingle free” music filled with the now less heard songs like Holly & the Ivy and Bring a Torch, Jeannette and Mary, Mary by Harry Belafonte (which always makes me cry yet is wonderful meditation).
    Lights go on the house the day after Thanksgiving; part tradition and part a friendly competition with the neighbors.
    Advent wreath making with the children including making our own beeswax candles from a kit. Advent calendar – on of those imported German paper ones with quotes not chocolate.
    Manger out on Stir Up Sunday but only animals and shepherds until the week before. Infant Jesus is hidden in the house and the children wake on Christmas to find him in the manger with Our Lady & St. Joseph.
    I have Purple and Rose and Gold vestments for our Infant of Prague.
    St. Nicholas day we open the stockings. St. Lucy’s day I make special bread and soup. Our Lady of Guadalupe and of course the Immaculate Conception are big feast days. We keep the Ember Days by smaller meals and no meat.
    The children go to the toy store and pick out something they would like and then we walk together as a family to a toy donation spot to drop the gifts in the basket.
    Week before Christmas we drive around looking at lights.
    Do we bake cookies? Of course! The difficult part is not eating them all before Christmas – self control and penance! Sandies, Rumballs, spritz, cookie cutter, lemon tea drops, persimmon, gingerbread and fudge.
    Tree goes up around Gaudete Sunday. If we wait and get one after that time the trees are all dried out and become a fire hazard before we even bring it inside.
    Mother loathes fish which means no feast of 7 fish this year.
    We always watch Donovan’s Reef.
    I don’t worry about sending cards before Christmas. I would prefer they arrive during the 12 days after.
    Our parish does a toy and clothing drive.
    We keep the Nativity Scene and Christmas tree up until the day after Epiphany when our 3 Wise Men, who have been roaming the house since Christmas Day, show up and offer their gifts to the Holy Family. No Elf on a Shelf – we have Wandering Wise Men.

  48. Vincent says:

    Interesting things that you Americans do.. No turkey! Our family Christmas tradition is all focussed on the last week of Advent and Christmas itself. We give up something for Advent (except on Sundays) in the spirit of it being a penitential season. The weekend before before, we go to see a world famous orchestra performing Carols, and then everything kicks off. Puddings and cake are made in the week, and on the 23rd we boys go on a tour of the County to hunt for a Christmas Tree, stopping at the local farm shop to pick up our fresh turkey. Astonishingly few people have an eye for trees and we always find a nice one left over (and usually more than half price). Christmas Eve (fast and abstinence) is spent decorating, setting out the crib and making everything ready for the next day, listening to carols on the radio. In the evening we go and ‘open the crib’ singing the first carols of Christmas. Then we go to Midnight Mass (an hour’s drive away) and have bacon sandwiches afterwards, on Christmas morning at 2am. Christmas Day is then spent in the lounge with board games, a hearty Christmas lunch (full roast turkey with usual trappings) and a couple of bottles of vino. No TV (we haven’t had one for years anyway) and no internet or computers. When we were young, we were relieved of all our daily jobs by our parents. Every night we sing carols (each of us chooses one) around the fire and the crib, and the three kings journey around the lounge until the Epiphany. The tree and crib stay out until Candlemas.

  49. un-ionized says:

    Vincent, at Christmas we are still just royally sick of turkey! And still probably have some in the freezer for next April.

  50. Mary Jane says:

    Forgot to mention our Christmas customs! Christmas morning the kids open their stockings and sometimes a gift prior to all of us dressing our best and heading to Christmas morning Solemn High Mass at our local FSSP parish (hubby and I sing in the choir). Afterwards we head home and the kids finish opening their gifts. Later in the afternoon we have our siblings and their spouses and our parents (the grandparents) over for a fancy and delicious meal (we go all out – I pull out our wedding china to set the table with, and we have prime rib, asparagus, cranberry salad, sugared cranberries, apple pie, hot coffee, hot apple cider, and Spatelesse, as well as various other sides and finger foods). We open gifts and sing carols by the fire, and our tree and nativity scene and outdoor decorations (wreath on the front door and nativity scene out front) stay out until Candlemas. I’m sure our neighbors must think we’re lazy for not taking down our Christmas decor sooner. :)

  51. We lost our third (and most recent) child to miscarriage during Christmastide 2010. At the recommendation of a friend we dis two things to memorialize him.

    We named him. Thomas Brendan.

    We purchased a Christmas ornament for him. I found a beautiful Lenox Madonna and Child ornament on Amazon. It came in a display box.

    Each Christmas, when we put the tree up at the very end of Advent (it’s not up yet as I type), TB’s ornament is the very first one placed on the tree, in a prominent location, by me. After the Baptism of the Lord, it is the first to come off. The remainder of the year it is on display in the handy box in our dining room (which we use every day). I look upon it daily.

  52. AveMariaGratiaPlena says:

    We light our Advent candles every evening and eat dinner by candlelight while listening to “Advent at Ephesus.” Our kids love it! We read from two Advent children’s books every night at bedtime: “24 Christmas Stories for Little Ones” and “Advent Storybook” (which my kids particularly love). We try to bake bread or cookies, or have certain foods at dinner, on corresponding saint days (for example, I made up the tradition of making a sweet bread on St. Barbara’s Day). We don’t put up our Christmas tree until about the second week of December. I try to not play any Christmas Carols during Advent, although we do listen to secular Christmas music such as Frosty, White Christmas, Jingle Bells, The Christmas Song, and so on. Every year I say we’re going to do a Jesse Tree with the kids making the ornaments, and every year we never get around to it! However, I do read to our kids from catholicculture.org’s daily reflections, which include descriptions of each day’s Jesse Tree. On Christmas Eve we have some kind of fish. This year I’m making gluten-free oplatki for Christmas Eve (my husband has celiac disease) – we’re not Polish but it’s such a lovely tradition. We do Santa Claus (I’m not depriving them of that joy) but don’t make a huge deal of him — for example we never say you’d better be good or Santa won’t bring you a present. As much as we can, we remind the kids that this is a time of waiting, and we’ll do plenty of full-on celebration and feasting during the Christmas season. We also celebrate Christmas all the way through Epiphany and have a special Epiphany dinner/ celebration.

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