How We Advent: a glimpse of what we do and why we do it

I wasn't going to post much on what we're doing for Advent this year mostly because it's pretty similar to what we've been doing the last few years. I've written on it before and there is now so much regarding Advent in the blog world it almost feels overbearing.  But then a few people began asking for a little more on what we do and why so I figured I'd share a snapshot of the ways and whys of how we observe Advent in our little domestic church.

Here's the foundation behind why we observe Advent the way we do...our family's Advent philosophy, if you will.

And here's the at-a-glance rundown on Advent around here (if you want more details please feel free to ask and be answered in the comments!):

The Wreath
The Advent classic. I suspect most people reading already know the tradition of the daily lighting of the Advent wreath so I don't need to describe it. We use the wreath blessing from the Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers the first night and then every night during dinner we light the candles while singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel with a follow-up in Latin. Luke can belt a pretty mean Gaude. During the last week of Advent (the "O Antiphons") we sing the corresponding verse for that day. We turn off all the other lights in the house and eat by the candlelight and I absolutely love that. The boys will freak if you dare turn on another light for even the briefest moment. We love rolling our own candles before Advent begins using the Toadily Handmade beeswax sheets! (I recommend getting their triple pack if you have the upfront money so you don't have to rebuy every year and can feel like a super organized liturgical superstar the next two years.) 

Memorizing Luke 2
We began this last year and did pretty well. I think we got to about verse 20. We're starting at the beginning again but it's going a little faster since we had worked on it all last Advent. The boys are way way better at memorizing things than me. I can fill in when prompted but their fresh little brains are so good. We simply added it to our morning memory work that we do during breakfast.  

The Jesse Tree
Admittedly, this is my least favorite Advent tradition but I do see and love the significance and purpose of it. I think I just have issues that there is no one way to do the Jesse Tree. I'm way too type A and I want it all neat and tidy and it never seems like the ornaments match up with the readings and every version seems to leave out significant figures. But I'm getting better at accepting its limitations  ;) I have yet to find a version that I feel makes the most sense BUT the boys absolutely love it and we do it nightly, each of them taking turns with the ornament hanging. This year Luke's been in bed when we do it which plays a part in making things run a little bit smoother sometimes. I still am so grateful I was able to participate in Jessica's ornament swap a few years ago. If you want to do the Jesse Tree but are overwhelmed with all the making of the ornaments, a swap is most definitely the way to go. I love that all of our ornaments have a different personality and style and came from other Catholic families like ours. 

Gifts for the King
I explain a little bit more about this here. As a gift to Baby Jesus we store up our good deeds via coins that Brian and I give to them when we notice them doing something of virtue. This can be as simple as obeying right away or helping their little brother put on his shoes or doing a task without being asked. This year to simplify things a bit we are just doing one shared jar and we'll use the contents during Christmas to buy something for the Christ Child (i.e. the poor) most likely from the Food for the Poor catalog.

We pray this after the Jesse Tree devotion in our little oratory. We try to light our prayer candle by the creche and that helps to set the tone. I was introduced to this prayer by Sarah a few years back and now it is one of my favorite prayers of the Advent season. I don't feel like it's too long for children and the repetition and meditation is incredibly beautiful and powerful. Here's a post I wrote about it :) We made knotted cords to keep track of the prayers many years ago using a very long piece of cording but there are also some you can buy just for this (or just use your fingers...I always lose track, though!).

Nativity Set
Our nativities are set up at the very beginning of Advent. The stables are bare of all but the animals as it awaits for the traveling Mary and Joseph. We're not always very good at remembering to move them every single day but theoretically, they journey through the rooms to reach the stable on Christmas Eve. First thing Christmas morning before we do anything else (minus coffee obvs...) the Christ Child is placed into the manger after reading the birth story. During the twelve days of Christmas the Magi also then journey towards the stable ending there at Epiphany.

No Christmas Music, Parties, or Treats (?!?)
I know. Crazy Catholics. I really appreciate the waiting on these things and I think it helps to fully celebrate and embrace the tremendous change of Christmas once it comes. We try to do all these things without being rude or jerky or tyrannical, of course! (It really is possible!) It's a joyful hope sort of waiting like the wait that comes right before the birth of a baby. It's aware of a very very good thing happening but, as any woman heavy in the third trimester will tell you, still very much in the not yet. At some point if we want, really want, our family culture to be different from the pull of the rest of the world, we've learned that we have to make decisions that aren't going to be understood by everybody. And that's okay. In fact, it's good. It's been good practice for when we have to make the decisions that matter a whole lot more. So we wait on Christmas music until Christmas Eve Mass (although exceptions are made for practicing piano songs!). We try to avoid overcommitting and when possible and charitable, avoid intentionally celebrating Christmas when it's not yet.

We remember that in the history of the Church Advent has a spirit of penance about it. Dinners are simplified and treats are only on special feast days. In fact, the first few weeks of Advent are actually focused more on the Second Coming and the end times, not directly on the birth of Christ! It's not until Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) when the liturgy begins to focus on the first coming of Christ and anticipating Christmas. So in our home when the Christmas season does come - all twelve days and then some - the celebration takes on a height and power that it couldn't have had otherwise if we had been celebrating it all December long! We take our lead from the wisdom of the Church on this. If the Church isn't celebrating Christmas yet, then our little domestic church doesn't either. There's a wisdom and authority to that which we really want to honor even when we really really want to get our Christmas on. If she's waiting on the music and the decorations and the feasting and the partying (liturgical style), then we do as well. Preparations are made, of course...we're baking and wrapping and buying our tree (decorated on Guadete Sunday) and getting things ready. But the full blown celebration begins at Christmas Eve Mass and we've found it's one of the absolute best ways to enter into the Christmas season.

Individual Feasts
For some of the specific feasts of the Church during Advent we have little traditions that the boys (and I) remember and love. On December 6 for St. Nicholas' feast, they put out their shoes that are filled the next morning with a few treats - a saint or Christmas book, candy cane, chocolate coins, and a golden dollar coin to be used for the poor. For the Immaculate Conception, we try to have a special meal and dessert and like with all Solemnities, there is no school that day. For the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 we simply remember to have tacos or something Mexican-esque for dinner. On December 13, we honor St. Lucy by having St. Lucy bread in the morning and using that day to light the outside Christmas lights and window candles to prepare for Christ's coming (and also celebrate our Luke's birthday!). On Gaudete Sunday we put up the tree and over the next few days the rest of the decorations. Once the O Antiphons begin on December 17, school is done until Epiphany! This sets the season apart but it's also a huge sanity saver for me with all the last week prep that a runner of the household needs to do for Christmas.  

Do we celebrate every single minor feast day or devotion of the Church during Advent? No. And that's okay. I mean, we recognize it with the Church, but not necessarily by doing something 'extra' at home. A mom (or at least I) could go nuts by doing that! The smaller devotions of the Church are not mandatory, they're invitations. And if you're schedule is already packed with other equally good or necessary things, then it's okay to decline. I also don't have the time or energy to take on some of the many newer trendy Advent ideas from Pinterest. The ones we've chosen have deep roots, have been proven good, and are beautiful. They are enough and I leave the rest. There is such a peace knowing that the roots that have been carefully, intentionally, and thoughtfully cultivated in our little family over the past ten years have now taken hold and run deep.  And we can now enjoy even more of the growth and fruits of that labor. The intentional Advent in our home took effort and planning and work but it has born such joy for our family and has most definitely deepened our celebration of our Lord at Christmas.  

So that's how we Advent and it's been awesome and so full of blessings. Again, please drop any questions in the comment box and I'd be happy to try to answer.

If you're interested in reading more of my Adventy musings or for a deeper explanation on some of the devotions, please click on over here.  The Advent posts are right on top :)

(Amazon links are affiliate links.)


  1. Thank you for sharing you family's Advent observances. We pretty much do the same. Though, I really liked your thoughts on taking the church's lead on waiting to celebrate (liturgical style) with treats, parties, etc. etc until the Christ King has arrived (it makes complete sense). Also, got a good chuckle with how your boys will freak out if you turn on a light for even a brief moment, boys do the same! =) May the rest of your Advent Season continue to be holy and blessed with God's grace and joy!

  2. I love that you shared again since I don't presently remember your other posts :) You make seasons beautiful and it inspires me to do the same in my home. Hope you're feeling well!

  3. Your family Advent traditions are so inspiring. Thank you for sharing, I loved it. Gives me something to think about...

    God bless,

  4. Hi ,
    Love all your traditions !

    I was wondering if Food for the Poor was a catholic organization ?

    1. Yes, it's Catholic at its foundation and has several archbishops on its board. I think it's so great that over 95% of what is given goes right to the people.


Thank you for visiting and reading! I love hearing from readers so if a comment box on a post is turned off, it's because Blogger is terrible about filtering spam. If you'd like to send me a message, please use my contact page. Thank you!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.