We are in the first week of Advent. Already! The word advent means “coming,” and during Advent we reflect on and prepare for the three comings of Christ: in history in Bethlehem, in mystery every day in the Eucharist and in others, and in majesty at the end of time. While engaged in the flurry and excitement of buying gifts, decorating the tree, and visiting Santa, Catholic families also focus on the real meaning of Christmas, namely, the celebration of the incarnation, God loving us to the extent of becoming a human being to save us. I’ve collected ways to live a meaningful Advent, in hopes of someday producing a book of family traditions. One or two might appeal to you . . .
Advent Wreath Set four candles on a circle of evergreens to represent the four weeks of Advent: three purple candles and one pink for the third Sunday of Advent, when we are happy that the Lord is near (or use white candles and colored bows.) The circle symbolizes God’s love that has no beginning or end, while the evergreens stand for hope and life. On the evening before each Sunday in Advent, light a candle and pray for the Lord to come and perhaps sing an Advent song.
You might make a small wreath for each bedroom. Some people set a white Christ candle in the center of the wreath and light it on Christmas Day.
The Christ Candle Buy a Christ candle or make one. Decorate a white pillar candle with symbols of Christ like the chi rho. Carve the designs, draw them with felt-tipped pens, paint them, or press beads or sequins into the wax. Add a ribbon. You might cover it with blue silk, net, or lace as a symbol of Our Lady’s mantle. On Christmas Eve remove the mantle. Light the candle during dinner, on Christmas Day, and on the twelve days after Christmas. The flame stands for Christ the Light of the World.
Straw for the Crib Set a box or empty crib where it is easily seen. Each night the children and parents place in the crib a piece of straw (or yellow yarn or strip of paper) for every kind act or act of love done that day. On Christmas Eve, the youngest one places the figure of the infant Jesus in the crib.
Road to Bethlehem On paper draw a road of twenty-four stones leading to a scene of Bethlehem. The children color a stone each day of Advent.
A Waiting Chain The children make a paper chain that has twenty-four links. The strips of paper for the links might bear Scripture verses or good deeds. Glue or staple one end of the chain to a nativity picture from a Christmas card. Each day during Advent clip off a loop.
Christkindls Christkindle is German for Christ Child. Family members draw names for a Christkindl, the person for whom they will secretly pray and do favors during Advent. They prepare for Jesus’ coming by showing love to others.
Homemade Gifts The family members make homemade gifts for one another. These may be gift coupons with promises to do things such as washing dishes or polishing shoes.
Gifts for Others Give money, gifts, or time to a group that helps the poor. Buy Christmas gifts from organizations that support the needy.
Surprise Envelopes For each day of Advent prepare an envelope with a way to celebrate the season enclosed. Family members work together to provide the contents: a poem, a prayer, a picture, or an activity such as “Everyone will help with supper,” “The person who opens this will make an ornament for the tree,” and “Everyone will pray silently for five minutes now.” Every day during Advent someone opens an envelope.
Christmas Cards Send religious cards to reinforce the true meaning of Christmas for your children and friends and relatives. You might create homemade Christmas cards. Every night, as a family, go through the cards that arrived that day. Read the greeting on each one and pray for the person or family who sent it.
Christmas Greeting Greet people with Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays.
Christmas Carols Play and sing religious Christmas carols at home and in the car.
- Make an Advent banner or poster with a caption like “Come, Lord Jesus.” On the reverse make a Christmas banner.
- Prepare an Advent centerpiece for the table that changes each week.
- Construct a mobile using Christmas pictures and Advent Scripture verses on colored paper of various shapes. Use yarn or string to hang the papers from a hanger.
- Children make a tree ornament each year.
Journey to Bethlehem During the last week of Advent reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph. Take their figures from the crib set to the farthest room. Process and sing carols as you carry the figures closer to the crib each day. On Christmas Eve process with lighted candles, and let the youngest child set the figures in place. The parents place the baby Jesus in the crib later that night.
Advent House Use a shoebox to make an Advent house to mark the days from December 17 to Christmas. O-Antiphons are the Alleluia verses for the Masses on these days. Each one begins with “O” and addresses Christ with a different title and refers to a prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah. The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a paraphrase of these antiphons.
Draw a symbol for each antiphon on paper and glue them along the sides of the box. (December 17: oil lamp; December 18: tablets of law; December 19: flower; December 20: key; December 21: sun; December 22: crown; December 23: manger. From construction paper cut out squares large enough to cover the symbols. Decorate the squares to look like windows and mark each one with the date of the antiphon it will cover. Use a small piece of tape to affix each window over its respective antiphon. Inside the box, place a picture of the nativity. Beginning with December 17, remove a window each day and pray the matching antiphon. On the evening of December 24, remove the picture and stand it on top of the box.
Advent Cookies Make sugar cookies in the shape of the O-antiphon symbols.
Christ Child Letter Along with, or instead of, a letter to Santa, have your children write a letter to the Christ Child. In it they ask for graces and favors and tell him how they intend to prepare to celebrate his birthday.
What Advent practice does your family have? Here’s a unique rendition of an Advent song for your enjoyment:
BOOK REVIEW: The Heartbeat of Faith: 59 Poems, Fingerplays, and Prayers Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND
(A nice Christmas present for little ones!)
Children love poetry. Its rhyme, rhythm, and repetition delight them. Perhaps the steady rhythm of poetry reminds them of their mother’s heartbeat. This is all well and good because by hearing and reciting poems, children develop a sense of language and increase their vocabulary. Poetry is also an excellent way to introduce little ones to the faith.
The Heartbeat of Faith offers moms, dads, grandmothers, grandfathers, and teachers of preschool and primary age children an assortment of original poems. Some poems are about the children themselves—their eyes and noses, feelings, families, and growing up. They come to see that God made them who they are. One poem teaches “good words” to say, and another poem encourages them to share things. Because little children are learning about God’s world, other poems are creation centered and deal with things like chicks, birds, and raindrops.
Most important are the poems that nurture children’s relationships with Jesus, Mary, and their Guardian Angel. Some poems introduce the children to the Bible and a few of its key stories that are child-friendly. Other poems are about Church feasts we celebrate. Poems in the form of prayers are also included, such as a child’s version of Psalm 139. A poem already a favorite among teachers explains how to act in church, God’s house.
During a good number of the poems, the children add gestures or actions, making the poem even more appealing and memorable. In one poem, for example, the children use their fingers to represent a caterpillar that changes into a butterfly.
A bonus of the book is the “We Talk” feature that follows each poem. It suggests talking points and questions for interacting with the children and together delving more deeply into the poem’s topic.
Simple blackline drawings enhance the pages.
The Heartbeat of Faith aids faith formation, develops language, and fosters a love of reading. It also creates a bond between the reader and listener. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a precious memory of sitting on the lap of a parent or grandparent and listening to a story . . . or a poem. Chances are, you can still recite nursery rhymes you learned as a child. The poems of faith in this new collection will certainly leave an indelible mark on children’s minds and hearts. And maybe yours too.
The Heartbeat of Faith by Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND, 100 pages, is available from ACTA Publications and from the author for $12.95.