It’s December 1 and Christmas is coming.
With its many celebrations, intricate planning, stressful shopping, and seemingly endless cooking and baking, the Christmas season can seem overwhelming, no matter who you are.
And if you’re a parent, on top of everything else, you feel responsible for getting just the right gifts to make your family’s holiday perfect.
But using the four weeks of Advent prior to Christmas for prayer, contemplation, and meditation can help alleviate the undue stress of the Christmas season and make this time particularly meaningful.
What we do
Advent is the season of holy anticipation and longing for the coming Messiah. In the Catholic faith it is also the start of the liturgical year.
I mark Advent by incorporating Christmas hymns and carols into my daily listening rather than my usual rock ‘n’ roll or blues. I force myself to take a deep breath and consciously spend a few moments perched on the living room couch, enjoying the sparkling lights and ornaments on our Christmas tree.
The beginning of the Advent season is a wonderful time to go to confession. Creating a tradition of attending the sacrament of reconciliation as a family in early December is a great idea.
Setting up the Nativity with its camel and cow, shepherds and wise men, Mary and Joseph is a cherished tradition and a central part of our Christmas decorating. Some families wait to add the baby Jesus until Christmas Day.
In early December, I make a homemade Advent wreath and place it on the center of the kitchen table, and we light one of the four candles every Sunday during Advent.
Advent wreaths are simple, often made of evergreen branches with four candles – most commonly three purple and one rose or light pink, but all white can also be used.
Important advent dates
Several key days occur during the Advent season and each has their place in our season of preparation. The Eastern Church celebrates St. Nicholas Day on December 6 by filling the children’s shoes with little gifts and goodies.
December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation that affords parents the perfect opportunity to tell the children about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her importance as the mother of us all.
The feasts of St. Juan Diego on December 9 or Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 are good times to have Mexican food for dinner and discuss with the family Our Lady’s miraculous appearances worldwide.
The Christmas novena
In researching ideas for Advent, I came across the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, designed to be prayed as a family or individually 15 times a day from the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30 through Christmas Day. It’s an excellent way to help focus on the importance of Advent:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.
In Germany the first weekend of Advent sees Christmas markets opened, mulled wine heated, and carols sung. Another favorite tradition is the baking and eating of special Advent biscuits, called Adventsplätzchen.
You can find Advent recipes at irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-