Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Other Advent Traditions

After writing about music, books, the Jesse tree, and the Advent wreath, it sure feels like we do a lot. Though, in actuality, those are very simple things to do during Advent - if you have everything gathered and ready to go, that is! Naturally we have other plans and traditions as well that I will share with you. Again, my goal is to keep it basic, yet traditional, with only a few new, easy additions to spice it up a little.

Advent calendars

The Advent calendar is a fun activity. I really enjoy the first calendar pictured. It has a little books for each night of Advent (well, the 24 days before Christmas anyway). Each night, before bed, one of the kids will give me the appropriate mini book, which I will read, and then one will hang it on their mini tree in the boys' room. The books are filled with quick "stories" and carol snippets.

The second calendar is fun too, and I think we will do this over the lunch hour. Though it says "Catholic Family Christmas Celebration" it still begins on December 1st. Each day has a window to open, and on Christmas Eve (or day, I can't remember) a pop-up manger comes out. I think ours broke last year, the first year we had it. I do like the little booklet that comes with it. It has two pages per day with a very brief, simple description along with a prayer for the day and something you can do that day for Advent (typically very simple and easy to do - requires no forethought).

Advent chain

This is the classic countdown to Christmas chain that nearly every child makes when young. This is a dad and kid project. A star tops the chain to represent Christmas Day and the birth of Christ. Each night one of the kids get to tear off a piece of the chain, and they (hopefully) remember to say a small prayer to the Infant Jesus. A cute idea (not this year) would be to write in prayers for each chain to say aloud.

The Nativity Scene
I think I could become a little obsessive over finding nativity scenes. As far as decor for the holiday season, it is my favorite (ok, the wreath is too and the tree), but seriously, they all have similarities and yet, are so drastically different from each other in style. For many years my mom has wanted to carve a nativity. I keep urging her to, but alas, she has yet to do it. Meanwhile, I started a Fontanini Nativitiy 5-inch collection. I started with the basics and add a piece each year. This year I am adding the Star of Bethlehem along with a stand to hang it.

Last year I put the nativity up way too early, I think, during the first week of Advent. This year, I will have the main living area clean by the end of that first week of Advent (a tall order presently!) and put up the empty scene on the second Sunday of Advent and bless it. Then, it remains empty until the next Sunday when we will add a few pieces. Additional pieces will go up the fourth Sunday, which is when Mary and Joseph will begin their journey to Bethlehem throughout the house. They reach the scene come Christmas Eve. That night, the baby Jesus makes his arrival, along with the Gloria angel, and the star. The wise men begin their journey the day after Christmas and arrive by Epiphany.

I also have a kids' nativity scene for hands-on play that will go in the boys' room. Plus, I ordered a new (different) one for Miss Bear's room as well for a surprise.


The kids become so excited to hang up their stockings. They love it. Next year I will have to find additional stocking holders (and a new stocking). I like the simple hooks over the fireplace since we have had too many holders fall and break. That alone is worry enough. Those figures are heavy. Can you imagine if one fell on one of the kids? Ouch!

We started a little tradition last year that was simple, yet meaningful, and cute during the first week of Advent. We read "A Stocking for Jesus" and hung a small stocking for Jesus. I would like to buy a special stocking for Jesus but for now we use a little red, gift stocking. The kids then, with my help, write a letter to Jesus. This is a chance to mention their gift desires, but also a chance to mention prayer requests/intentions as well as to offer a promise of sincere effort to please God, especially during this Advent season. At night, while they sleep, the letters are carried off by "angels." I leave their little guardian angel figures in the stocking for them to find.

Our Christmas Tree

The tree is one of the biggest changes I have made from my childhood memories. As a child, we eagerly brought down our artificial tree and ornaments and began assembling it as early as Thanksgiving Eve itself! It was a mad rush to finish it up, and though we usually were pretty nice about it, at some point there was a little snippiness as we tired. In the last few years, especially last year, I have begun to spread out our decorating - to make it more fun, and to bring meaning to it and not just another to-do to check off the list.

Last year we made the big decision to go from artificial to live tree, and we enjoyed the experience and plan to do so again. The best thing that came out of this is that we do not have the urge to put up and decorate our tree so early, and instead purchase our tree roughly two weeks prior to Christmas. We set it up in the house with water, and there it sits for another week, bare. Finally, we spend a Saturday (before the fourth week) decorating and blessing it, before finishing the day off with a pizza picnic dinner while watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas." This year the decorations will be simple since my husband has to put all the decorations away. Actually, I will probably only put up a few "extra" decorations outside the tree, the wreath, and the nativity to make it easier on him.

The Empty Crib

I tried this idea out last year - to have the empty crib and fill with straw for good deeds. The problem? Children - and a cat - who liked to play in the straw and who also did not seem to really "get" the idea. So this year I will change it up a bit. Either during that last week of Advent or on Christmas Eve itself, one of the kids will place the empty crib (my daughter's wooden baby crib) under/by the tree and line it with cloth. Then, during the night, I will place baby Jesus (one of my daughter's babies) in the crib, wrapped in a white shawl. It will be in front of the presents for Christmas morning.

Other Fun Stuff We Do

  • Christmas ornaments: The kids have wooden penguin craft ornaments from Grandma and Grandpa to color/paint and add their picture to. Also, we will make some simple pine cone ornaments by spray-painting some pine cones gold and shaking them in gold glitter. When dry, hang with some extra yarn.
  • Cookies: simple cut-out cookie shapes for the holidays. I plan on baking early, freezing, and having them ready to go for Christmas Eve morning for decorating. I love the idea of working with this Starlight Cookie recipe for Christmas Eve (to make it gluten/egg/dairy/soy-free) but that will have to wait until next year. I also usually do more baking in the kitchen come Christmas, but this year any baking/cooking I do will be reserves for post-baby. I can barely get dinner on that table now!
  • Movie night: Game nights are reserved for Friday nights during the darker months, and during Advent, Saturday is our movie night, where we will watch some classics. Each year it changes based on what we want to watch but at some point we watch Miracle on 34th StreetIt's a Wonderful Life, The Littlest Angel, and Rudolph (who can resist the little misfit?).
  • Christmas cards: keep it simple and just send to very close family and friends. Kids may or may not create an insert. I have cards from last year so those will be used (vs having the kids make them).
  • During the last week of Advent, the kids get comfy in their pjs and we head out in the van to check out neighborhood Christmas lights and listen to Christmas carols. We then head home for a little treat before bed.
  • And of course we celebrate a few feast days in there, but that is for another post! This one is long enough!

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