Celebrating the Christmas Season
We have instituted some new traditions in our household over the last few years in regards to Advent and Christmas that I'd like to share with you.
First, we have changed our thinking about Advent. It used to be a fun time preparing for Christmas with parties, gift buying and wrapping, cookie and goodie making, decorating the house, etc. Now we look upon Advent as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. In some respects, this is a rather solemn time for us. We don't party or do any of the things mentioned above. We don't sing Christmas carols (though we do sing Advent hymns). No decorating the house, except for an Advent calendar and wreath (and some lights). Each day we try to do some simple, yet out-of-the-ordinary special spiritual preparation as a family (usually connected with Advent wreath lightings or readings or our Advent calendar). I have all the "Christmas" shopping (and wrapping) done well before Advent. We (most of our family) do not go into stores from Thanksgiving on to avoid the secular thrust of Christmas. We have Dad or one of the oldest kids (who can drive) do grocery shopping and/or stop and pick up anything else we might need, and we try to limit those trips to as few as possible. During Advent we tend to stay home much more. We keep meals quite simple and plain (except Sundays).
Our Advent calendar consists of a felt banner about 6' long with glued on felt houses for days Dec. 1 through Dec. 23. These houses follow (line) a winding path towards the church for Dec. 24th. Each family member (including babies in utero) are represented by a felt person; and each day the family is moved up a house closer. (The babies we have lost through miscarriage are represented by stars up by the church- i.e. with Jesus. The family members who have moved out and/or are married are also represented. So was the dog one year!)
We decorate the house with dozens of strings of light, on St.Lucia Day, Dec. 13. (Traditionally, the eldest daughter in the house serves coffee cake made early that morning in bed to her family whilst wearing a braided wreath made of bread dough and studded with lighted candles on her head! Needless to say, we adapt this a bit and use a wreath of bread with candles -on the table- and have that and coffee cake - a once a year treat in our house- for breakfast.) St. Lucia is the patron saint of light.
We have a tradition of making "Advent Stars". Each child gets a large plain heavy cardboard star (12"?- you can buy these at stores) of a different color. Each day during Advent, they can earn "decorations" to adorn their starts with as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. Points are listed on a chart -so many points for each act of charity (the longer and harder the act of charity, the more points it is worth), for doing your job or schoolwork well, for extra prayers said and so forth. Points are kept track of on a clipboard for each child (sometimes Mom records them, sometimes the kids are on the honor system). Every other day or so, a big production is made out of redeeming your points for the decorations. These include glitter, colored ribbons, stars, stickers, bells, pipe cleaners, all sorts of craft things. The "nicer" the "decoration" the more points it costs. The children decorate their starts, aiming for a beautiful gift for Baby Jesus. This really motivates them to do those things. Though this may take some effort the first year, after that it is easy. I have a small box with all the decorations for their stars in it, so that takes but 5 minutes every other night to "sell". The glue, etc. is also all right there. We even use the same starts two years in a row (other side). These are hung up in the house during Advent to remind everyone to prepare yourself (your star) now. Adults can do this also. We make a little ceremony about presenting these to Jesus Christmas Eve- they are placed over the manger at this time.
Anticipation builds as we head towards Christmas Eve.
Dad and some of the kids go out on Christmas Eve Day (sometimes the 23rd) to get our tree. (More than once we got it for nothing, as they sometimes have an abundance of surplus trees, some very nice. One year he came home with about a dozen trees we propped up all over the yard!) We set up the tree and decorate it. We have a very primitive, non-rehearsed Nativity play. Jesus is placed in the manger. We have a simple humble evening meal, and end with Midnight Mass. No presents that day or evening. No extended family gatherings. Just our family trying to reflect and celebrate the awesome mystery of Christ's birth.
And then Christmas Morning! Some fancy, but prepared ahead breakfast, like frozen mini-quiches that can be popped into the oven quickly and easily. This is the beginning of the glorious Twelve Days of Christmas. I have previously picked out one present for each family member that is a "nice" one, particularly enjoyable. These are opened Christmas morning. All other presents (from relatives, family members, etc.) have been wrapped and numbered. I have throughout the year purchased many close-out items at a significant discount or other inexpensive gifts (yet not junk) like coloring books, crayons, markers; the Sorrel boots I picked up on clearance for $25 last spring, the Mickey Mouse underwear that was $2 for a three-pack; balls, etc. Anything big or small has been wrapped and numbered. We end up with a BIG pile of presents (hidden way up high in a closet). Remember, though, many of these items are inexpensive or clothing or other necessary items we would have gotten throughout the year anyhow- we just save them all up for Christmas. Or grocery items I don't usually buy like "Crunch and Munch" or Pop-tarts. We divide the number of presents by 11 (except the Christmas Day presents because that's one of the 12 days,) and then put numbered slips into a jar. Each day we open that many presents. For example, if we have 45 presents (not counting the Christmas Day ones) we'll open 4 a day and 5 on the last day. These are randomly drawn from the jar. One person may not get a present for 2-3 days in a row. Many of the gifts are family gifts. Each morning, everyone is eager to rise, eat breakfast, pray, and pick the presents. The whole twelve days is time of rejoicing. The house has been cleaned and spruced up during our preparation period of Advent, so for the next 12 days, housework is minimal. No schoolwork. Every day we have a very special meal or treat. Often we make ethnic foods. Dad tries to take a bit of extra time off. We just spend this time celebrating and enjoying each other. Often we have friends over (like every other day sometimes). We invite a family over and each person decorates a small gingerbread house and we have a village of houses (usually including a church). We invite another family over and make popcorn balls, another and the girls make fancy h'or dourves.
Our celebration generally begins to wind down with an Epiphany party on Epiphany Sunday, to which we invite all the Catholic families we know who would like it (this means LOTS of people and children and LOTS of fun and LOTS of good food). Sometimes we go a few days longer until the actual historical Epiphany, and we keep Christmas in mind until Candlemas Day (Feb. 2). So, while everyone else (except the church) is long done with Christmas, we are still pondering the Christmas mysteries.
Anyway, these ideas help us to keep Christ in Christmas and to remove ourselves somewhat from the secular aspects of it that seem so prevalent in our world today.
May God bless you and your family,
Yours in Christ,Kathy
GTH & BYB: Get to Heaven and bring your Brother