In Search of Advent in 7 Quick Takes

In modern America, the push toward Christmas began before Halloween even ended. In an effort to drive up sales, we are constantly bombarded by advertisements for the next big thing, come September the focus of retailers turns to Christmas. However, what about Advent? It’s a time of preparation but not in the sense of running store to store, piling high the latest gifts, and hosting party after party.  To prepare for a true Christmas, we must observe a true Advent. Here are our Advent plans in Seven Quick Takes.

Find a Daily Devotion
It is important to be in the day, each day and not just plow ahead to Christmas. Having a daily prayer devotion will ground you and turn your thoughts to God not merchandising. I have used various booklets through the years, but this year, I’m trying something new.  I have had the book 33 Days to Morning Glory for a few years, my problem is always starting on the right day and not getting off track 75% through. So, I have signed up for an email program so I will not lose track and finally make it to the consecration. ( For more ideas, check out Catholic Mom.)
Don’t Forget the Children
A devotion for the family is also important. We really love completing our Jesse tree, but I have to admit there were years when we were trying to do five days in one night or only made fifteen ornaments. This beautiful devotion became a source of anxiety, friction, and stress.  Then, we discovered Holy Heroes Advent Adventure. There is so much to love about Holy Heroes (their CD ‘s are absolutely wonderful!!), but I have to say my favorite is Advent Adventure. No only did we complete the Jesse Tree, but also prayed the O Antiphons, a decade a day, and learned about a new saint and liturgical traditions.  Best of all it is free and comes delivered in one email. You do not even need to have Jesse Tree ornaments, printable ones are included in the email.  If you have not signed up, please do and also remember Holy Heroes for stocking stuffers and gifts.
Celebrate the Feasts
There are so many wonderful feasts during Advent, but honestly our Church has so many feasts, how could anyone ever say we don’t like to have fun.  To keep the focus on Christ and the moment, consider celebrating one or more of the feasts with your family. Keep them as simple as you like and remember to add giving and prayer. Here are the feasts we always celebrate, I will post more detailed plans on the day of the feast–still planning
St Nicholas Day: A wonderful counter to the Santa hype, this holiday is a beloved tradition for my children. On December 5th, they leave out their shoes before bed. In the morning, they discover some small treats and something big to give away. We strive to spend $5 or less per a child, but last year they also received $40 to give away however they pleased. We drink lots of cocoa with candy canes, have a special breakfast, lunch, and dinner, make gingerbread houses, and spend the day making gifts for the family.
Immaculate Conception: Not only a holy day of obligation, but a chance to remember the importance of Mary. Celebrate with something white for dinner.
St Juan Diego Day: My children have a special love for Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Plan something Mexican for dinner! I have a plan for some crafts and books that I will post soon.
Our Lady of Guadalupe: Have something Mexican, again, and read the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I have many plans for this day, but nothing over the top. We are planning to celebrate in more meaningful but less stressful ways.
St Lucy Day: Cowgirl dresses up and brings us coffee and breakfast in bed. Then, we have special crafts, read special stories, and have a Swedish dinner.
Build the Anticipation
We have several traditions to do this. First is our Advent wreath, the children get so excited every time we get to light another candle.  We also have a box with small doors, kind of like this one, that we use as an Advent calendar. Each day, a new door is opened to reveal a piece for our feltboard nativity. Half way through, I include a piece of our miniature vinyl nativity to add to the excitement.  We decorate gradually, always starting with our nativities and ending with the tree.
Sacrifice, Sacrifice, Sacrifice
Like Lent, Advent is a time of preparing the soul. The soul requires sacrifice and prayer, not indulgence. Remember, Christmas is the apex and the big feast, not the entire month of December. Give alms, pray often, and fast from something special. Make it a point to do corporal works of mercy. The more you give, the more you will receive and the less you will desire worldly gifts. Clean out your home as you clean out your heart, choose items to donate and bless someone else. Read Michelle’s post on the capsule wardrobe if you need inspiration.
Don’t shop!
Wait, what? Aren’t these the biggest shopping days of the year? What about Nye list and checking it twice? What will the kids think?  Hear me out. I try very hard to complete Christmas shopping before Advent begins. The main aim of Christmas marketing is to get you to spend, spend, spend. You are made to feel that the holiday will only have joy if your wallet is empty and then some, but wealth and riches are the polar opposite of the first Christmas.  It may be too late to finish before Advent, but take these steps to minimize the damage of Christmas commercialism.  Simplify your list, are you buying just to have gifts to give or because you want to bless your loved ones with a gift. Cut back, less really is more! Second, give experiences not things. Plan a day of baking with your daughter, a fishing trip with your nephew, a camping trip with your spouse. Not only will you spend less, but your gift of time will be remembered for decades.  I recently read about the idea of picking a special recipe  and buying all the ingredients and any special tools ended to make it. What a great idea! Do that for ten years or more and not only will that child leave the nest with a wide repertoire of recipes, but a drawerfull of tools. Third, give the gift of giving. Wrap up a favorite candy bar or snack and make the real gift a gift card to a charity catalog. Our favorites include Samaritans Purse and Show Hope.
When you must shop patronize local businesses and Catholic vendors, such as the ones featured on Catholic Deals and Shower of Roses. You can also help support the religious communities by shopping monastery shops. Check out a list of some right here, and here is another favorite of mine.
Find Silence
It is in the silence that we find God. Try to adopt a discipline that affords you silence, a precious commodity in modern living. Make a holy hour each week, attend daily Mass, wake up twenty minutes early to pray. Whatever you do, take time each day to breathe and listen to the LORD. Melody at Blossoming Joy has a lovely post to help you get started.  We often lovingly tease my mother-in-law because her church puts the following on their marquee each Advent, “Shhh, It’s Advent!” As I get older I appreciate the sentiment more and more, although it is still a funny sign.  Enjoy the season and come to Christmas day renewed and full of joy instead of depleted and grumpy. This truly is a joyful time of year, but Advent is only the beginning.

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