What are some “baby steps” for celebrating Advent?

iStock 000013993589XSmall What are some baby steps for celebrating Advent?I hate to admit this, but I’ve come to associate Advent with EPIC FAIL. (And preparing the way for the glorious birth of Christ, of course. That and EPIC FAIL.)

Every year for the past three years I’ve tried lead my family in some of the rich traditions that this beautiful part of the liturgical year offers. And every year I end up getting overwhelmed and giving up around the second Sunday, the Advent decorations peeking out from the clutter on our mantle now serving primarily as a reminder that I don’t have my act together.

As I’ve contemplated this upcoming Advent, my fourth as a Christian, I’ve realized a few of things:

  • I am more easily overwhelmed than most people.
  • I have four kids under age seven (well, I guess I already knew that one).
  • I have very little experience with this season; neither my husband nor I celebrated it growing up.

Considering those factors, I realized that the problem is that I’m trying to do too much. Even most of the books and websites that offer “simple” suggestions for Advent are above my level right now. Keeping up with an Advent wreath, Jesse tree, countdown calendar, special daily Advent prayers, arts and crafts projects and seasonal baking projects sounds like it wouldn’t be all that much, especially when it’s spread out over a season. But it is for me. By a long shot.

A lot of you are familiar with Fly Lady, the home organization guru who advocates that people who follow her system start with “baby steps,” i.e. doing a few extremely simple things to get your feet wet. (For example, her system will eventually lead you to an entire home makeover, but she suggests that you begin by just putting on your shoes and cleaning your sink. That’s it.)

So here’s my question for you:

What are some “baby steps” I could take to begin bringing the many traditions of Advent into my home?

The more specific, the better. And feel free to include yours, even if others have already commented. I’m sure there are other people who struggle with this, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Also, let me hasten to add that I know that all these great traditions aren’t ends in and of themselves: the goal is to bring us closer to Christ, to prepare our hearts and minds to behold the miracle of Christmas — and you can certainly do that without lighting a single Advent candle. Don’t worry, I don’t think that participating in Advent rituals will act as a magic bullet that instantly makes me holier and better prepared for Christmas.

I do think, however, that the activities of the liturgical year can point our hearts in the right direction (I often think of it as breathing with the Body of Christ); and I think that the rhythmic celebrations of the different seasons are deeply comforting and enriching for children. So it is important to me to make Advent a part of our family’s lives. Hopefully your baby step ideas will get me off to a good start!

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125 Responses to “What are some “baby steps” for celebrating Advent?”
  1. Hallie Lord says:

    We started a family tradition of singing O Come O Come Emmanuel each night as we light our Advent Wreath. We’re already gathered for dinner so it’s easy to do and the kids start talking about it well in advance of Advent each year so I know it’s a hit.

    • Tiffani says:

      I am a cradle Catholic, so I’ve been doing this for a long time. I have a million children and a very hectic household too. A word of comfort to all the converts out there: No one is perfect, especially, Catholics. So, don’t get stressed out if your Advent doesn’t reflect the silent, candle lit image of an Advent Mass. If you are going Mass, most cradle Catholics will already respect you in awe and wonder.

      The easiest thing for me to love about Advent is that it is a time of minor penance and preparation. There shouldn’t be any real Christmas decorating until the actual start of Christmas, on Christmas Eve. So,if you are like me – a pretty well disorganized and unmotivated decorator – take heart that you aren’t really supposed to get all crazy during Advent. You’re supposed to prepare the way of the Lord. It’s kind of like a little Lent. Christmas is the big red and green party.
      Tiffani recently posted..Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

    • TL says:

      I second the song signing every night.
      Our favorite here is “let all mortal flesh keep silent” (there is also a spanish version called bienvaventurados seran”, same melody)

  2. Natalie says:

    We have a Nativity set that we set out on one side of the room. On the other side we set out the Holy Family. Each Sunday of Advent we move them a little closer to the creche (they circle the room) and talk about the journey Mary and Joseph took. I can’t wait to read about what other people do in their families!

    • Susan H says:

      I am also a convert and have struggled with creating family traditions. I’ve been at this for 13 years now and here’s is where we are currently—-Advent Wreath—simple prayer still used from when my kids were little (now all teens, 17, 15 1/2 & 13 1/2)
      Thank you God for day,
      Thank you God for night,
      Thank you God for Jesus
      He’s the world’s bright light.

      At a past parish there would be a parish evening to make your wreath and share desserts and drinks and listen to Christmas carols and hymns… my current parish has a St. Nicholas celebration. I tried making the special St. Nick cookies several times—not successful yet.

      We also pray the Stations of the Nativity…..a book we received as a gift one year (St. Paulus Press I think) and we use that during Advent and the Christmas Season during adoration.

      We also slowly add to our nativity scene….first just the shepherds and the animals at the creche, then Mary and Joseph arrive a day or two before Christmas Eve, then the Infant Jesus appears Christmas Eve along with the angels. other visitors gather (ie the drummer boy) The Wise Men then start their 10 day trek to the creche. My nativity set is one I made (ceramic) before I converted…amazing how much time I spent on the details–I guess the Holy Spirit was moving within me then. THe boys still use their plastic set and re-arrange the figurines daily. I’ve challenged my son, the sculptor, to make me a set (I’m still waiting!)
      We also slowly decorate our Christmas Tree…..it is fake (husband insists) and goes up the day after Thanksgiving with lights…however we slowly add items to the tree and under the tree as Advent progresses and every year we spend an afternoon either shopping for or making a special ornament that represents our family for that year—some place we went, a favorite movie character, event, etc. We make a big deal about adding it to the tree.
      Another afternoon is spent shopping for presents for the parish Giving Tree—the kids love buying the gifts and then wrapping them as gaily as possible.
      Another evening is spent at a friend’s home who hosts a Cookie Exchange–this is new to our socializing schedule and lots of fun!
      This year we are adding the St Andrew novena or the Christmas Anticipation Prayer to our morning prayers. It starts November 30 through Christmas. We are specifically praying for the healing of a special 11 year old girl who is battling an incurable brain tumor.

      I guess we’ve come farther than I thought in our Advent traditions….O come let us adore him!

    • Mike says:

      We have tried the Nativity scene building through advent but our two year old keeps absconding with one of the animals or Mary or Joseph. By the time Jesus is born it looks like Harod has already been there.

  3. Jeana says:

    First of all, that is a lot you’re trying to keep up with. We do the advent wreath but not a Jesse Tree or countdown calendar and few if any arts and crafts because my kids are older. You might pick one or two and plan to do some others another year.

    We have a daily advent wreath devotion, and the plan is that each night we light the candle for that week, have the kids tell us what that candle represents, read the scripture for that night and sing songs. We accept in advance, however, that there will be nights that we don’t get to it–and that’s okay. If we aim for every night it’s bound to happen at least several nights that week, so the kids get some exposure. The devotion we use is not progressive, so if we miss a night there is no gap. Some nights we linger and talk more, some nights it’s just a few minutes, but because we do it often rather than once a week there’s not so much pressure to make it a huge thing.

  4. A Big Hello from BRASIL,
    Jennifer!

    I was born in a catholic family, as a catholic girl, BUT my Mom became a Kardecist Spirit, I followed her steps and only in 2007 I have become a catholic woman again.

    So the same as you I am not familiar to how to celebrate the ADVENTO, BUT what is really important to me and my husband is to pray nine days one after another (here in Brasil we call it NOVENA) to celebrate the coming of Jesus to this world.

    Since 2008 we both do it following the instructions of our Bishop, who gives orientations to the prayers in a little book and also in a CD so the families are able to learn and sing the songs chosen to each year.

    GOD BLESS YOU, a woman so wiling to Be a Catholic with actions and specially with your Beautiful and Generous HEART!!

    God Bless too All Your Reaaders!!
    ~Ana Paula~A Católica recently posted..Sobrevivendo ao câncer- ou melhor- a 4 tumores

  5. Mya Nameo says:

    Start with the Advent wreath. It is a big thing, universal to church, parish school, PSR and homeschool. If you get the Advent wreath lit on all the Saturdays of Advent, consider that you have done a good job. If you get it lit more than the Saturdays of Advent, you have done a superb job indeed!

    What is more important about Advent is to “prepare for His coming” in our hearts, not about the Jesse tree, the manger hay of good deeds, trotting Mary & Joseph along the window sill via the nativity scene, or for that matter, the Advent wreath.

  6. Christina says:

    Why don’t you try just one of the activity/devotion, like an Advent Wreath OR a Jesse tree or O Antiphons OR a countdown. I like this Jesse tree kit: http://www.amazon.com/Jesse-Tree-Kit-Lynn-Simms/dp/0819839868/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1289833423&sr=8-6. It is less overwhelming for me because it includes a paper tree and all the ornaments predrawn. It also has short prayers for every day. At the beginning of advent I cut out all the ornaments and store them in a folder with the booklet and hang up the tree. Then each day all we have to do is pull out one ornament, let “child of the day” color it, and hang it up while we say the prayers. Just a few minutes of time, but it includes prayers, bible verses, and a “craft,” so I feel like I’ve covered all the necessities. Then have a few Advent/Christmas books out in a basket to read when/if you have time or your kids bring them up to you, but don’t stress about them.

  7. Ruth Ann says:

    Just letting you know I put my comment on your FB site because the glitch here wouldn’t let me comment. I’m glad it’s now fixed.
    Ruth Ann recently posted..The Atheists are Spreading Their Holiday Cheer

  8. Rebekka says:

    What you’re doing sounds like waaaay overkill. I’d stick with an Advent wreath and maybe a Nativity scene (and one your kids can’t ruin by playing with).

  9. Madeline says:

    I would suggest just doing one thing – I would suggest the wreath – and working it into your existing routine.

    There was at least one year in my home that we put the Advent wreath in the center of the dinner table and lit it right before dinner. It did triple duty – beautiful centerpiece, a focal point for the prayer before meals, and a wonderful reminder of the season of Advent :-)

    • Christina says:

      I’ve yet to convert to Catholicism, and it’s been a long road even thus far! A few years ago I did do the Advent wreath, and that was all. The Advent wreath in and of itself was a beautiful reminder for me to just reflect on the Miracle of Christ and helped me keep so many things in perspective that year. I’m hoping to do one again this year, as I really felt a difference in our home between the year we did the wreath and the ones we have not.
      Christina recently posted..Christ’s ultrasound banned in UK

    • Lindsay says:

      We also have the advent wreath set up on our table and we light the appropriate number of candles every nights. It’s easy to remember to do it that way. So far none of the toddlers have lit themselves on fire.

      Other then that, we do the chocolate filled advent calenders, not exactly a Catholic thing to do but it’s about all we can muster.

      I was thinking about putting up the tree with just the lights and maybe doing a Jesse tree with that and then doing the full decorate on Christmas Eve.

      Almost all of our family are atheists or agnostics and don’t get the celebration of advent and are always gunning for early Christmas celebrations. (So all the grandparents, in-laws, divorced and remarried parents can have their own celebrations) By the time we get to Christmas we’ve usually already had one or two full Christmas days already. I’m not sure how to merge that will the little lent of advent, when you’re already feasting.

  10. I’m not Catholic, and my fundamentalist upbringing didn’t get into the “pagan” traditions of Christmas. Like you, I am discovering the season of Advent and it’s traditions. I only have one child (currently 4), but here’s what’s worked for us in the past:
    We do a Jesse tree each night, substituting the Jesse tree reading for our traditional bedtime Bible story.
    At the dinner table, we light the appropriate candle(s) on the Advent wreath. Either I or my husband reads the short selection for the day as we eat dinner.
    My son and I have one Christmas craft day where we make ornaments for family members. We only make one type of ornament, and since the kits make 8 or so, it’s easy to get into an assembly-line type of production.
    Additionally, my son and I have one Christmas baking day. We make one type of cookie in the morning, and one type of cookie in the afternoon. I do additional Christmas baking, but I do it by myself. This keeps us all sane ;)
    For fun, we have 2 family Christmas fun nights: one involves popcorn, hot chocolate, and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The other night involves driving around our town to see Christmas lights. The last fun thing we do is daily: I tape some Hershey Kisses onto a Christmas tree I painted onto a cookie sheet (I used to glue magnets, but that was too time consuming). Every morning, BB gets to take one Kiss off. When all the Kisses are gone, it’s Christmas!
    Heather’s Hodgepodge recently posted..WFMW- Making Sense of Leftovers

  11. We Byzantine Catholics started Advent today! To celebrate Advent- we fast from meat (yup- a fast in preparation for the feast) and step up our morning and evening prayers. I collect nativity sets, so I’ll start bringing those out.

    You might find today’s post interesting
    http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/2010/11/psalm-31-philips-fast-advent.html

  12. Liesl says:

    We had an advent wreath as our centerpiece on our kitchen table growing up – so we lit a candle each night for the week of advent we were in. By the time we got to the 4th week, it was great, because us 4 kids didn’t have to fight over who got to light a candle!

    We also had an Advent calendar with little ornaments for each day – and we’d take out an ornament each day and put it on a mini tree.

    We also sometimes would set up the Nativity set piece by piece together – leaving baby Jesus out until Christmas, of course – but that’s something we only did when we were younger… so it might be fun for your kids!
    Liesl recently posted..My Quick Wit Emerges Victorious Once Again

  13. Loni says:

    Use your Advent wreath as a centerpiece (assuming your kids won’t climb on the table and destroy it.) Every night at dinner, instead of saying your usual prayer before meals, light the candle and say an advent prayer. You can find Advent prayers via Google. Simple! (Oh, and once you’re done praying, blow out the candle. Heed my advice – I have five under 10!)

  14. I always like those traditions that break up the Holiday Madness into smaller, more manageable blocks rather than those which add to the stress and bustle of the season. So, for instance, you could take whatever you would normally do for the holiday anyway, (decorating, baking cookies, shopping and wrapping) and break it up to do a little bit on a specific Sunday of Advent (first put up the wreaths, then do the shopping, then do the baking, then the tree on Gaudette Sunday, etc etc.)

    I think, though, the most important thing I do is reserve ALL Christmas carols until Dec 25th. It’s really hard, and of course this isn’t for everybody, but I change the radio station in the car to classical or I play CDs, and at home while we decorate I only play the Messiah or a similarly solemn type of CD. I think that this sets the tone: we are preparing our homes and our hearts. They joy of Christmas comes on the 25th and on through the new year. It helps us really look forward to that day coming at last.

  15. Salome Ellen says:

    Don’t even worry about special Advent prayers. Kids the ages of yours are still learning the everyday ones! Just put out a wreath (ideally on the table, but somewhere safe,) light the candles each night and remind the children that the more lit candles, the closer you are to Jesus’ birthday. Then Christmas morning have the candles lit, gather the kids, snuff or blow out the Advent ones, light the Christ candle, and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. That is ABSOLUTELY a proper family celebration of Advent with little ones! (I raised six; Arwen is my eldest.)
    Salome Ellen recently posted..Sometimes Sundays are a Mixed Bag

  16. syd says:

    This isn’t a Catholic site, but I really love how she breaks up getting ready for Christmas into 12 weekly steps. It helped me so much last year, and I’m doing it again this year.

    http://simplemom.net/features/12-weeks-to-a-peaceful-christmas/

  17. When my kids were little they loved candlelight prayers around the Advent wreath. It made evening prayers special.

    One other thing we did was to make an Advent paper chain. Each day we chose three things to pray for, and wrote one name on each link: someone we didn’t know (a four-year old girl in India), someone we did know (a friend or relative), and some way we’d like to grow (patience, etc). We kept adding to the chain, and by Christmas could ‘wrap our tree in prayer’. Really simple, and okay if you miss a few days here and there.
    Julia at LotsaLaundry recently posted..What my kids do with their free time

  18. Kelly says:

    Like you, I have four small children- 6yo, 5yo, 3yo & 8 month old baby. Also- Advent was a TOTAL failure last year! The Jesse Tree was just way over their heads as was the book I bought to read “Jotham’s Journey”.

    This year- I bought a GORGEOUS, hardcover, keepsake book- “The Advent Book” by the Stockman’s. Check it out on Amazon. Hardcover book & heavy pages. A different door to open each day with scripture and illustration behind it. Really, really beautiful artwork. Short, simple, EASY! This is just our speed with four little ones in the house.

    The one positive last year was I picked ONE Christmas hymn and we sang it every night during devotions. By the end of the season they had learned the song. We’ll do that again this year- pick a new song and maybe occasionally review the one we learned last year.

    For once, I’m excited about Advent and feeling hopeful that it will go well.

    ETA: Oh- another neat Advent book is the one by Lisa Whelchel- something with “ADVENTure” in the title. Lots of neat, easy crafts and activities to do with little kids. Easy being the important word!
    Kelly recently posted..Meeting a Real Knight!

  19. kigwit says:

    I’m kind of in the same boat as you-as a convert I don’t have a lot of experience with a Catholic Christmas. So, this year I plan to do the Advent Wreath (at least on the night’s I’m home and not teaching, my DH isn’t Catholic). There’s some Advent tips on Catholic Icing. There’s a CD with antiphons available for each night that I am thinking about getting to use as well.

    My sons are 3 and 5 so I expect that the most exciting part for them will be FIRE! But we will do the wreath with dinner each night and afterwards, they will get to open a window on their Advent calendar. We also have a fabric advent calendar that I made last year. It’s a cookie bowl and we alternate the boys removing a cookie for each night. When all the cookies are out (Christmas eve), we take down the calendar and hang up our stockings.

    My hope is that when they are old enough not to believe in Santa, they will have a good grounding in Advent and know that the real meaning of the Season is that He came to us and what that means to us.

  20. Anna says:

    I’d agree with all those who say to start with just an Advent wreath. Buy one you like instead of trying to make one; leave it on the dinner table (if it’s safe from the kids there); any night that you eat dinner at the table, light the appropriate number of candles. You can add prayers or singing a Christmas song if you want, or you can keep it simple by just doing candles.

  21. This is what we do. I’ve had a tendency to feel like it’s too little at times, but it definitely works. We have an advent wreath at the table and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel along with grace. This has the added benefit that we actually tend to eat dinner at the table during Advent.

    We have a simple wooden manger my father-in-law made for us years ago. It goes with an inexpensive baby doll. We cut up strips of yellow construction paper and the kids put a piece into the manger when they do a good deed. Baby Jesus arrives on Christmas Eve to a nice cushy manger.

    And that’s really most of it. We decorate over time. Sometimes we’re good about the Jesse Tree, sometimes not. We do celebrate St. Nicholas Day (a strong tradition in the Milwaukee area) and St. Lucy’s Day (the kids insist on this one, but it’s pretty much all their own work and they’re pretty big now!).
    Love2learn Mom recently posted..Jumping Ship

  22. Margo says:

    I like the idea of taking one or two Advent ideas/themes and instead of “spreading oneself too thin” by trying to tackle the whole spectrum of possibilities, maybe just put all the focus into a couple of different things such as an Advent calendar for the kids (for those who have kids) and maybe lighting the candles as the weeks go by. Or maybe just spending more time in prayer and really making the effort to attend all four weeks of Mass during the Advent season.
    Margo recently posted..Catholic Devotions

  23. Elizabeth says:

    If it is any source of consolation to you, I think it was about Easter when we found the chocolate Advent calendar on top of the fridge with at least half the doors unopened. I have five children under the age of 9 and I am sure that I probably gave up trying to remember whose turn it was to open and eat the chocolate. Most likely, I got sick of listening to the complaints of the others.

    We were successful with lighting the candle(s) on the Advent wreath before dinner each night. Emmanuel books has an beeswax Advent candle kit on sale that we might try this year. http://www.emmanuelbooks.com/display_results.cfm?category=690

  24. Meredith says:

    Nativity set, Advent wreath at dinner, some biblical Nativity picture books piled in a basket for reading…that’s about it for us!

    When I feel overwhelmed I always go back to Leila’s post on Advent order and wonder for inspiration

    http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com/2009/11/advent-beginning-of-wonder.html

  25. Tami says:

    Along with so many others, I would suggest having an Advent wreath. It will keep you in sync with the Church. Add just the 1st verse of “O Come O Come, Emmanuel” to your blessing before dinner. I would also suggest that you add a purple and rose table cloth or runner to your table to further emphasize the liturgical season. Or perhaps napkins, even paper ones that you use on Sundays. This would help in marking the liturgical shifts of the year. I use the same cloths again in Lent. If you have the time and inclination, working on a Jesse tree can be fun, esp. with your childrens’ ages. But there is plenty of time for that activity in the future. Building Catholic culture in the home is great fun, and creates traditions and memories. Relax with it – no one does it all every year!

  26. We keep things simple around here, for every season. For advent:

    1. An advent wreath at the table – lit for dinner nightly with the household lights out. The kids love eating by candlelight – the mysterious and dark atmosphere alone prepares our hearts for Christmas even without special advent prayers or songs.

    2. Empty manger set out in living room – kids add piece of straw (yarn) when they do a good deed with the goal of making the Infant’s bed plush and soft on Christmas morning. Very special to them.

    3. Empty creche by fireplace – three wise men at other end of the house. Every day the girls move the kings a step closer to Bethlehem.

    We do the O Antiphons because they’re beautiful. Never done a Jesse Tree – for some mysterious reason I don’t like the idea. Don’t ask me why. Pick what interests you and you’ll stick with it. Don’t adopt an idea just because someone says you should. Do what you love and what works for your family. There’s enough to do at that time of year without adding activities/crafts you’ll end up dreading. :)
    Kristen Laurence recently posted..Goodbye to Things- Not Memories

  27. My 4 kids are 7 years apart so I understand where you now are. An older friend suggested that I chose 5 things to do before Christmas and don’t worry about anything else. My mom always give the kids advent calendars with chocolates in them. That was one. We put up the tree and the Christmas train the weekend before Christmas. We usually go as a family to 1 Christmas concert (often with one of the kids in it). When they were very little we had a supposedly unbreakable Nativity scene that we let the kids play with. We did not put Jesus out until Christmas morning and the wise men roamed the house until January. Other things we did some years include watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas while letting the kids eat popcorn as dinner; reading Christmas related stories for all bedtime stories; baking Christmas cookies to eat ourselves; sending out Christmas cards; listening to Handel’s Messiah in the kitchen while cooking until we had listened to the whole thing, making Christmas decorations, seeing the Nutcracker ballet. You get the idea. Be gentle with yourself. You have years to make memories but you want memories of fun times not of a stressed out mom. Go simple. There are lots of choices, do only a few of the things that will be enjoyable for your family. Be sure to ask your kids what is important to them. Your oldest 2 will surprise you with what they remember and it might be something very easy to do. Ask.

    Another strong suggestion. Spread out your Christmas celebrations! Do not try to visit everyone, and eat a gourmet meal, and open all presents on one day. Invite close friends to see you between December 26th and January 6th. Visit relatives after Christmas Day. Ask anyone you are seeing after the 25th to save any gift they are giving until you see them. Plan a day to play with new toys are your kids favorite park. Go to a museum or theater. Invite your kids friends over and bake cookies or play with bubbles. Have people over for left overs or a potluck. Do your best to celebrate all 12 days of Christmas not just the 25th. It will help your kids not be so overtired and cranky when you want to show off what great kids they really are. My husband and I are both introvert but at Christmas (all 12 days) we try to entertain often. This really does give great memories without killing me.

    PS We never do an advent wreath at home because we have a wood house and candles in young hands are very bad. We do sometimes volunteer to light one of the candles for a church service.

  28. el-e-e says:

    Here’s my take, as a cradle Catholic – we never did any Advent rituals at home, growing up. Now, granted, we attended Catholic school, and had plenty of Jesse Tree’ing and Advent wreathing going on there. But for me, if it’s not at home, I don’t feel it’s necessarily “missing.” I feel like celebrating Advent in the home is a bit of a modern convention; a means to forego (or block out, or make a statement against) all the too-early Christmas consumerism.

    That said, I do intend to do some kind of nod to Advent in my own home, this year. I’m thinking even less than a wreath… What about just lighting a candle every night at dinnertime? Purple or pink, depending on the week. A chance to talk about what’s going on at Mass with the Advent wreath/colors. I read in Mitten Strings for God that lighting a candle at dinnertime is a great, memorable, peaceable ritual that kids enjoy. And it’s QUITE the baby step. ;)
    el-e-e recently posted..Seven Quick Verbs for the Weekend

  29. Douglas says:

    Here’s something you might find interesting.
    http://shaungroves.com/series/going-giftless

  30. Douglas says:

    With a passel of young kids and a pregnant wife, my family just isn’t up to lots of advent celebrations. We succeed best when we keep things very simple, so in that spirit we shoot for eliminating normal Christmas traditions over adding Advent traditions to what we grew up with. Our foremost goals include minimizing materialism and keeping it simple. With that in mind…

    1) My wife and I try to be done with extended family gift purchases by Thanksgiving so it isn’t a stresser or focal point during Advent. The only way to do this is to keep it very simple. We only worry about gifts for kids, typically books from Amazon or the library’s used book sale. Grandparents are happy with a family photo taken by a passerby after mass in front of our church. It’s the only time my kids are half dressed up and the one family photo we get every year. If my sister gets all prissy and insists that she needs a gift because she isn’t married, I’ll get her a $5 or $10 gift certificate purchased online or in the Starbucks drivethrough on the way to work. I don’t want to spend more than 10 minutes on it.
    2) In this vein, my kids only get one gift from my wife and I (some years when relatives have been generous, we haven’t given them anything). We also don’t do Santa. Some years I’ll fill a stocking, but I can’t bring myself to lie to my kids about a fat guy in a red suit. Last year, we just gave them the cash and let them pick out their own gifts at Walmart. It took one evening, and our shopping for the family was done. The hardest part was explaining that the gift they just picked out would then go under the tree instead of being opened right away.
    3) We encourage family to give gifts in our name to CFCA or World Vision instead gifts for our kids. Most people are so aghast at our gift giving non-chalance, they ignore these requests, but some take them to heart.
    4) We use our bedtime reading time to read a gospel with an emphasis on the Christmas story from maybe more than one as the time approaches.
    5) We are flexible. This year, my kids are asking about celebrating St. Nicholas Feast Day. Maybe their gift will come in their shoes this year instead of under a tree. Maybe they’ll just get an apple in their shoe. Who knows? It’s not Dec. 6, yet.
    6) It isn’t uncommon to drop all homeschooling efforts for the entire month of December. This means doing school for 2-3 more weeks at the end of the year, but makes Advent more peaceful.

    Every family is different. We’ve been doing this since my kids were little. The oldest is only 2nd grade (and homeschooled), so this is normal to them. Our motto is simply that if we are too stressed about Christmas/Advent or feel that the proper attitude/focus is slipping away, eliminate, eliminate. We aren’t a super-family that can do it all and raise perfect kids who focus on others while getting tons of gifts themselves. We often feel like we are barely getting things done in ordinary time, so adding a ton of Advent traditions is like training for a marathon by walking a couple miles everyday on a treadmill.

    • Charlotte says:

      Sounds pretty dismal to me. Not the idea of cutting back on gifts, etc. But because your attitude seems very negative – as if giving is a huge pain in the ass, calling your sister a “single priss,” etc.

      I always say – it’s the ADULTS who need the gifts, not the kids. It’s the adults who need som joy, surprise, and wonder.

      • 'Becca says:

        I agree. Douglas, I hope that after spending 10 minutes getting a gift for your sister, you spend a lot more than 10 minutes praying for her to feel your love in the other ways you express it, and expressing it. When people insist that they need gifts, it is usually because they’re afraid you don’t love them.
        ‘Becca recently posted..Reflections on a Bathroom Renovation

      • Douglas says:

        Charlotte, My kids don’t find it dismal at all. They love the holiday season. If one reads about how people in the US used to celebrate Christmas (e.g., the Little House books), my family’s celebration can seem absolutely ridiculous and even over the top, ostentatious. Yet, children prior to the 1950′s didn’t consider Christmas to be a dreary time. Minimizing materialism can actually be a rather effective gateway to a more joyful human experience. Personally, I’ve found that the time I need most to remember this is in Advent. It’s not that I find gift giving to be a pain in the ass, it’s the materialism that can be a distraction. If this isn’t the case for you, more power to ya. I’m just trying to encourage people to think outside the box if they find Advent a ridiculously stressful time of year. It has done wonders for my family.

        • GeekLady says:

          Douglas, she didn’t call your efforts to minimize materialism dismal. She said your attitude towards giving gifts seemed negative.

          And I absolutely agree with her.

          I used to think that nothing was worse than giving a gift card. But I was wrong. Handing your kids cash and telling them to pick out their own gift is much, much worse. It’s an insult to the whole point of giving a gift, which is that you are thinking about someone else and not yourself.

          Our celebrations at Christmas may seem decadent compared to stories from the Little House books. But the Ingalls made sacrifices, even though they were poor, to have candy, or Laura’s very own tin cup, or for each of the girls to find a penny in the toe of their stocking. These things, for them, WERE a little decadent. They were not outside of their means, but they still required some sacrifices.

          I think the extreme excess we see at Christmas is just a reflection of the fact that modern life year excessive year round. It requires more and better remedies than just eliminating some of the Christmas celebration.

    • Rachel says:

      I have to say, if someone willingly wants to give you a gift, you should graciously accept it. If it is something that doesn’t suit your family life or if you get an overload of toys, then encourage your kids to donate them on. Jesus graciously accepted the gift of the woman washing his feet with her perfume, in the same way, we should graciously accept gifts. The reaction of your family is a strong indicator that you may not be gracefully explaining your desire.

      • Douglas says:

        Rachel, I’d buy your explanation if the reaction of my family was uniform. It isn’t however. I’ve gotten very positive feedback on the World Vision gift catalog idea from numerous family members, and some have even done it. It’s also a polite way of communicating that my extended family shouldn’t be expecting expensive gifts from us, because that’s not how my immediate family celebrates Christmas (and to soften the blow, we certainly don’t expect anything at all from them). I’m perfectly happy giving people used books from our library sale, and don’t think people should get offended if the gift isn’t expensive or brand new.

  31. Like others here I never observed the Advent season either. Being in the midst of RCIA classes, I am looking forward to embracing this new tradition. (Oddly my husband grew up Catholic and I don’t believe his family ever made a big deal out of the Advent Season.)

    We don’t have children so I don’t have that monumental distraction. :-) That said I’m going to start small with an Advent Wreath. It will be nice to try to focus my husband and I on dinner at home as much as possible. I can plan a very nice meal for the Sundays of the season so that we can make a special ceremony out of the lighting of the next candle.

    I will also get an Advent calendar; I do have fond memories of them as a child – it was the one “pagan” thing my family did. And I haven’t had one in many many years (decades if I’m being honest).

    We are so excited about this season; as we learn more about its meaning I can’t believe that more Christians don’t celebrate this very important countdown to the birth of our Savior.
    Kris, in New England recently posted..Pssstttt

  32. Maggie Dee says:

    Our family only does the Advent lighting on each Sunday of Advent (if we don’t forget)and we celebrate St. Nicks day. I too tried filling the Advent season with activities when the kids were younger. I began to hate/dread the season all together because of the shoulds I filled my head with. Do what works for you and your family, a cranky Mom is no fun to be with even if the “activity” seems like it will/should be wonderful. The important thing is to direct your kids (and yourself) towards Jesus throughout the year using everyday opportunities. You plant the seeds, the Holy Spirity will till the soil. Eventually they will get it and hopefully you won’t have to pray as long and hard as St. Augustine’s Mom.

    • Maggie Dee says:

      Oh, and I buy one of those cheap gingerbread kits from Costco. I let the kids decorate it however they want and then they immediately eat it after we take a picture. Because what’s the fun of a gingerbread house you can’t eat?

  33. Denise says:

    It can be overwhelming, can’t it? But I’m with all the others who suggest sticking with the Advent wreath, whether that’s a beginning or all you ever use. You can do it up fancy or start with a kit from Target. We also put ours on the “eating” table, so we see it each day throughout the day. If possible (and it’s not always possible, with little kids), do your night prayers around it. Light the candle(s) when the kids are around; ours have to take turns being the one to blow out the candle(s) when it’s time for bed. Most kids seem to love candles, and it does sometimes help to focus their energy and concentration. :)

    (In our case, the Advent wreath is also an extension of how we pray all year – around a candle/centerpiece that reflects the Liturgical season which we are celebrating.)

    Another easy one is a nativity set with which the kids can play. We have a high-quality, simple wood one, and it’s been worth the $40 investment. They only get to see it for Advent through Epiphany.

    Finally, a wonderful way to imbue your kids with the spirit of Advent is to flood your reading times with Advent- and Christmas-themed children’s books. There are SO MANY incredible, well-made, beautifully-illustrated Catholic/Christian children’s books out there that celebrate “the reason for the season” and also the saints, etc. In Charlotte Mason-speak, avoid the “twaddle”; stick with books that tell a wonderful story that draws kids in – they’ll remember it so much better than a dry, fact-filled monologue about some Christmas legend or tradition.

    You can just start with Tomie de Paola if you don’t have his stuff already, although I note some people hate his illustrating style. Here’s also a list to start with from Catholic Mosaic. Scroll to the bottom for December/Christmas: http://www.hillsideeducation.com/mosaicbooklist.pdf. Our library has (somewhat surprisingly) had a ton of these books.

    If that works out well, there’s an even more exhaustive book list in Christmas Mosaic, but I can’t find a free online version of the list. It’s also published through Hillside Education.

    Many other reading suggestions I collected from the handful of Catholic homeschooler blogs that I read. Feel free to email me if want more and/or can’t locate a good list by Googling. I note that I’d back off of this if your kids balk at losing time with their favorite books because you are reading/lingering over a bunch of new ones. In that case introduce just a few; you don’t want them resenting it.

  34. MelanieB says:

    Jen, I’m all about baby steps at Advent.

    If I were you I’d pick one or two traditions and focus on them. Next year add one more. The next year if you feel up to it add another. Or don’t if you still feel overwhelmed by what you are doing.

    While I have fond memories of traditions like the Jesse tree, I also recognize that my mom probably did that with us when we were a little older than my kids are now. I’d love to do it some day but now it’s filed away for a time when I feel more ready to tackle it and quite frankly a time when my kids are better able to appreciate it.

    1. When we got married and started having children we started very simple. We put up an Advent wreath and light a candle at dinner time and say a prayer out of a little book I have. To me if you can only pick one Advent tradition, this is the best one to do when you have little kids. Little ones are enchanted by the candles and it’s a concrete way for them to countdown to Christmas as you add one candle a week. The repetition of the same prayer every day for a week meant that in a day or two Bella had learned the prayer and was praying along at least some of the time. And a single chorus of “O Come of Come Emmanuel” likewise is easy for the kids to learn.

    Oh and if the Advent wreath doesn’t get set up till the second week of Advent because you forget to go buy candles… that’s ok. I’ve done that twice and you know the kids still enjoyed it. And it’s also ok if you only have white candles. Evidently the pink and purple are an American tradition. Catholics in other countries use other colors.

    2. The second tradition I added was the Nativity scene. This was easy for me too because I already had one my dad gave me about the time I got married. I have one with the Fontanini resin figures, which is great because they are not breakable and that means the kids can play with them. Some people do an elaborate thing where they add in figures as Advent progresses and that’s nice but not necessary. You can just set it up completely or else leave out Baby Jesus and put him in on Christmas morning.

    Several times during Advent I like to sit down with the figures and read a simple version of the Nativity story with the kids, sort of acting it out by holding the various figures when they are mentioned by the text. Again, no stress about trying to do it every day or anything. Just when I first put it up and then when I have the time. Maybe once or twice a week or so.

    Those are the two things that I have done every year. And if I do them, I feel like we’ve got Advent covered. That said, I have tried to add on a few extras and they have been fun but are totally optional in my mind.

    Reading other Christmas books is extra. Though we do have a growing collection as I’ve tried to give Christmas books as gifts the last four Christmases and I try to put them in a basket so they catch the kids’ eyes. Again, nice but I don’t stress about doing anything with them. No activities or lessons or anything. Just a pile of books that we may or may not read and discuss.

    An Advent calendar is definitely extra. But last year we did have one because one of Dom’s colleagues gave us several and the girls discovered them and loved opening the little doors every night. Neither Dom nor I worried about remembering but I found the kids never forgot it became a part of their bedtime ritual. I would not have done this had it depended on me going to the store to find one.

    Last year the one new tradition I added was St Nicholas Day. I put a couple of chocolate candies in the girls’ shoes and wrapped up a book I bought about St Nicholas. (No special shopping trip. The candies I picked up on my usual grocery run. The book came straight to the house, thank you Amazon!) It was fun. It also happened to coincide with our first big snow day of the year so it felt really magical. I hope to do it again this year. If I remember to buy the candies and/or a book, then we will. If not, oh well.

    Seasonal baking for me might be one batch of cookies. Once. Maybe. Last year we did a batch of sugar cookies. It was a big headache. This year I’m thinking gingerbread men. When you’re pregnant or have a baby or a toddler then I think baking is totally optional. Even more so if more than one of the above apply.

    To me that’s the big thing: controlling my own expectations. I set my goals low and am happy if I hit one or two things.

    For me this Advent is yet again a time to sit around and be pregnant and let my own body remind me of what waiting really means.
    MelanieB recently posted..Good Day- Sun Shine

    • elizabethe says:

      HI Melanie B. Thanks so much for sharing! I’m a convert and one thing I feel really moved to do is celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day with my kids. It seems especially appropriate to me because St. Nick is the patron saint of children (among, uh, other things). I actually try to talk to my kids about him all year long as someone they can pray to. I’m glad to hear about your experience with celebrating the feast.

      • MelanieB says:

        Elizabeth, You’re welcome. St Nicholas was never something my family did when I was growing up Catholic. But when I was in grad school my roommates did. One roommate’s mother always called the other roommate to make sure she did something for St Nicholas day. Usually candy and a new pair of socks. I liked the tradition especially as all the roommates benefited. I loved the pair of green cashmere socks I got one year. I decided I wanted to adopt it; but it did take a few years of motherhood before I remembered in time to actually do it.
        MelanieB recently posted..Good Day- Sun Shine

    • Martha says:

      I always think of the Jesse tree as something to do with teenagers. I don’t think any of mine under 12 would get as much out of it as they would simple Advent devotions. FWIW.

  35. Wendy says:

    I didn’t read the other post so someone may have already suggested this. We try to light our advent wreath candle every day at dinner and our church gives out a small reflection book that has a daily bible story (great for kids) preparing us for the coming of Christ as well as a prayer to say. Just this alone is wonderful and a great way to keep the focus on Christ. My niece and nephews (who are not catholic) loved it when we brought our advent wreath up for our Christmas visit with them, they couldn’t wait to sit down for dinner so we could light the candle and hear the story.

  36. Angela says:

    I read “Behold, He Comes” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel every year. Sometimes, I add a sacrifice of one thing such as not eating chocolate until Christmas.

  37. Sarah says:

    Last year I decided to treat Advent as the time to prepare for Christmas instead of as its own season which I needed to prepare for. This made all the difference for me. I tried to have an Advent wreath ready by evening on the first Sunday of Advent, but that was the only thing I did ahead of time. (I say I did it ahead of time – actually I put it together Sunday afternoon. I did manage it on the first Sunday of Advent, and that’s good enough.) All my other holiday prep happened during Advent, not before. The tree went up about half-way through. I think we decorated the tree a few days after we put it up – maybe even a whole week after. The nativity set is stored with Christmas decorations, so it was put out the same day we decorated the tree. I also kept reminding myself to refrain from trying to put together the perfect Southern Living/Martha Stewart holiday celebration on the spur of the moment. I love all the ideas people have, but I just can’t do that much.

  38. Bonnie says:

    I have found that for me, the best way to keep Advent is to keep Christmas out of it.
    We do the Advent Wreath that we light at dinner. And we also have an empty stable on one side of the house with the Holy Family and Magi in other locations. Mary and Joseph get to the stable on Christmas Eve, the Magi on Epiphany. Lastly, we don’t decorate for Christmas (tree, garlands, basically everything else) until the 3rd Sunday of Advent when we rejoice because His coming is near. That is also when we begin listening to Christmas music beyond O Come O Come Emmanuel.
    So for us it’s not a lot of what we do, but when we do it.

  39. Lizzie says:

    A really simple tradition I’ve managed for the last couple of years is to get 24 small cards on the first Sunday of advent and write the name of a family/friend/country on each one. We fold them and add them to our advent calendar and pray for their intentions each evening during bedtime prayers. It takes 15 minutes to prepare and you’re sorted for the whole season!

  40. Maia says:

    I, too, have to keep it simple. And I only have 2 kids (under the age of 3). And I did grow up celebrating the season. But I get more easily overwhelmed than most people. So here is my simple, baby-step tip:
    Sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel before dinner. If an Advent wreath is too much, light some candles. Turn out the lights. You can do this, even, in lieu of grace. Print out 4 verses of the song. Sing one verse for a whole week, the next verse the next week, etc. Ring bells for the refrain! My mom had little jingle bells that we held really quietly until the refrain — then we belted out “REJOICE! REJOICE!…” and rang our bells for all we were worth.
    Of all the things my parents did to celebrate Advent, this is the one that sticks the most.
    Maia recently posted..The Catholic Military Mom Guide to Prepare for and Survive Deployment 1

  41. GeekLady says:

    Our only Advent tradition is our Advent wreath. Our only rule is that we have to eat dinner at a clean table with a lit Advent wreath every night. (This may be modified somewhat now that I’m teaching Wednesday CCE.)

    We also especially focus on charity during Advent, both internally and externally.

    We deliberately shy away from any devotions that resemble Lenten ones. Advent and Lent are their own seasons and each takes its nature from the great feast it anticipates. The intermingling of devotions cheapens both seasons, in my opinion.

    Other than that, I let the natural wind up towards Christmas take its course. Within reason. Decorating, gift obtaining, wrapping, and baking all have their duly appointed times within Advent, and I don’t think they detract from the nature of the season at all. You can’t have twelve days of fuss and food and games without some Martha moments beforehand. But then I also don’t have a problem with telling my child fairy tales about fat men in red robes who deliver presents.

  42. Elizabeth says:

    I really started laughing when you equated Jesse Tree = Epic Failure. I have also struggled with Advent and 5 kids aged 9 and under (soon to be 6 kids — but not before Christmas! Whew) Jesse Tree to me is shorthand for “project that never is finished and gets knocked over or starts argument about who makes the ark ornament.”

    What works for us is what we don’t do — we try not to start Christmas until the 25th. This is not always that successful, especially considering that Santa is already in my local mall, but this has helped us to keep our eyes and hearts on Advent. We don’t put up the Tree and decorations until December 23/24, except for those related to the Nativity. We keep telling the kids, “Its still Advent — not Christmas yet.” This really helps keep Advent as a separate time of preparation — not just a pre-festival. We set up our Nativity and it goes up really high (so the kids aren’t tempted to play with it.) We keep Baby Jesus, and the Wise Men in the box. On Christmas Eve, we put Jesus in the Manger and the Wise Men are set out across the room (again really high!) Everyday we move the Wise Men closer as we reach Epiphany. We also have an Advent wreath which we light at supper time. We struggled with various levels of fire hazard, until my husband picked up a really nice resin one that doesn’t take up a lot of room in the centre of the table. We say a family Advent prayer before lighting it. We also try to read books about the birth of Christ for the little ones, so they really know the story. We also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day in December. The kids love finding candies in their shoes, and we use it as a chance to talk about St. Nicholas and sharing the love God has for us with the world, and how this ties into Jesus’ birth.

    I try (usually with my husband) to follow an adult Advent reflection in the evenings/early morning. This is one of my favourite things of the year. I found a great book with a collection of Fulton Sheen’s writing, but I have also used the pamphlets they hand out at our Parish. I find this really gets my head (and hopefully heart) to reconnect with the awesomeness of our Saviours birth.

    God Bless you for your wonderful blog! I love reading it! I tell all my friends! (Yeah-really!) :-) Thank you for the wonderful gift you have given us all!

  43. Andie says:

    I agree with those who said, ‘keep it simple’. An Advent Wreath, prayers offered together as a family, quiet…waiting…reflecting….loving.
    Andie
    Andie recently posted..Irritants and Pearls

  44. Mike says:

    We do an advent wreath and each person gets a turn to lead us in prayer and light candles, starting with the youngest. Those too young to read have help, of course, and those who can’t be trusted with fire have mom or dad hold their hand with a long fireplace match. We have an empty nativity scene, with Mary and Joseph moving slowly toward it. Since space is limited they only move once a week.
    Mike recently posted..IVF is

  45. Thanks for posting on this topic, Jen! I’ve got Christmas down pat, but as a convert to Catholicism these Advent traditions are new to me. This year I’m planning on doing an Advent wreath, and coming up with some ceremony to go with it after reading the other comments.
    Catholic Poet recently posted..Lover of my soul

  46. Shannon says:

    The only thing I’d add to what has been said is this: celebrate Christmas all the way to Epiphany. In my household, that meant waiting til Dec. 20th to get a tree and then not putting it out on the curb until Jan. 6th. (So sad to see those trees out the evening of the 25th!)

    Change the candles in the Advent wreath, sing a Christmas carol each night, mark the doorway on New Years (Do you know that custom? 20+C+M+B+11 for the Magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar). Do it in chalk. It will be a reminder every day that your household is ready to welcome those who come seeking Christ.

  47. Emily says:

    When my children were very young I set up my advent wreath as a center piece on our table and tried to remember to light it during dinner.

    We also did crafts for christmas about once a week (I remember best painting tree cones with green, white edges with washable paint and gluing tiny poms-poms on after the ‘christmas trees’ dried) and I would do one or two baking projects.

    Otherwise I tried to read the Jesse tree readings myself (no tree, no ornaments, just the readings) and do the overall preparations for Christmas. Our Nativity would be set up by Christmas.

    *Later* we started doing a advent meditation after dinner, consisting of lighting the advent wreath, a prayer, the Jesse tree readings (we make a paper poster and paper ornaments),one serious advent son and one fun Christmas song- everyone old enough to have an opinion takes turn choosing the prayer and songs. We don’t do much other then this on a daily basis.

    The amount of crafts and baking etc. only started increasing when my oldest children became old enough to do them by themselves.

  48. Coffeemom says:

    I agree w/ so many of the comments….the advent wreath is the best start. It’s simple, it’s a small but profound thing, and it’s doable. And it’s enough. Get the wreath. Set it in the center of your table. And then every night that you have dinner there (and ya know, you try to do that fairly often…or when you can….) you light it, according to the week. That’s it. And somehow that lighting as you all sit down, and sitting w/ it lit (not even w/ lights dimmed…small kids, impossibleness) somehow just brings the season in closer.

    And that might be enough. Spoken as one who is a cradle catholic and still has Advent Fail, every year, despite my best of intentions. So…..hoping for small successes this year for us all!
    Coffeemom recently posted..New Monday- Pre-K

  49. Shannon- The chalk on the door should be done during a house blessing with a priest- Mu husband still goes to every parishioner’s house between Christmas and Epiphany/Theophany. I think now it is only an Eastern tradition- you might ask your priest to come by your house if your house hasn’t been blessed in a while.
    priest’s wife recently posted..A Psalm 31 Philips Fast Advent

    • Shannon says:

      @ Priest’s Wife–

      It would be nice to invite the priest over for such a blessing. However, the parish is 900+ families who come from 65+ zip codes. Not much of a chance of that happening. Instead, I’ve invited friends over for a Christmas-tide party and marking the doorway is part of the festivities.

      Other families make it the first thing they do on New Year’s Day together.

      If anything, we have recovered the art and tradition of blessing one another frequently–and not waiting for an ordained person. It’s different in smaller communities.

  50. Nancy says:

    We do an Advent wreath, and read from the Bible each night while it’s lit. We also do an Advent calendar that features the Nativity, animals, etc. and sing a Christmas hymn or song that relates to whatever we’re putting on the calendar that day.

    We also do a few community/church projects that provide gifts for those who wouldn’t have anything, and use that opportunity to talk about how Mary and Joseph were poor and had nowhere to stay.

    Now I’m off to google “Jesse tree!” Though I grew up Catholic, I’ve never heard of this! :o)

  51. Following the FlyLady trick of “home blessing” happening once a week, do the little thing (Advent wreath and short prayer at dinner) every day, and the “home blessing” can be one big thing a week: pick 4 saints for the whole season, maybe, and do a craft for St. Nick’s day, a baking project for St. Lucia, and so on. One cool thing a week. Plan them the day after Thanksgiving when hopefully you’ll have some time on your hands, one page for each week.

    It took me 3 years and lots of troubleshooting to complete our family’s first Jesse Tree, so you’re not alone!!!

    :) Katie

  52. pharmgirl says:

    Get a Nativity scene; when my sister and I were the ages of your kids, we loved playing with ours. Keep baby Jesus out of sight till Christmas and explain to the kids that he’s not in the manger yet because it’s still Advent and we’re waiting for Jesus to be born.
    pharmgirl recently posted..Dont Take Your Meds To Town- Son

  53. MishMom says:

    I love this post because I can SO relate. My kids are almost exactly the same ages as yours, so I’m definitely interested in keeping things simple. I especially loved Elizabeth’s comment about finding the half-unopened advent calendar on top of the fridge around Easter time…. LOL
    Thanks for making me feel so, well, ordinary. ;)

  54. Lisa says:

    We have a fun, simple project. The idea is to make a soft bed for Jesus by placing a piece of straw on the manger every time you do something nice for others.

    All you need is a baby Jesus, a manger and some straw or yarn. You could use a doll and a cardboard box, or pieces from a manger scene or make your own. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

    It’s a fun challenge to see how soft you can make Jesus’ bed by Christmas time. The kids love it and the whole family can participate. Simple gestures, like a hug for mom whose tired, or holding the door for others, all count. On Christmas day, place baby Jesus in His soft bed.

    I make little sets as gifts for the kids in my religious ed class… they love them!

  55. Charlotte says:

    A non-Catholic friend of mine started an Advent tradition years ago that I am finally going to claim for my self, now that my child is 3: She would wrap up 30 kids books about Christmas (some religious, some secular) with plain tissue paper and put them in a basket. Every night before bed, one of her kids would get to unwrap a book and together they would read it as a family. The books would get re-used year after year, and so it was exciting to revisit these books which only came out once a year. In my mind, if you’ve kept your eyes open at rummage sales, you can collect this many books about Christmas easily – the books stimulate discussion and prayer and family time each night.

    Oh – Fisher Price has a “Little People” nativity set. I highly recommend it so that your kids can really interact with the characters and not ruin any nicer set that you might have in the house.

  56. Jen says:

    This is something I’ve been really thinking about over the past week or so. When I was new to mothering, I’d read blogs with extravagant celebrations and feel badly that I was not offering the same beautiful experience to my children. I have sense come to some peace about it all, realizing that there are many, many years to add traditions and see which ones fit well with us – especially years when we are not adding a new baby to the family! So I do a few things from my childhood that are comfortable & known (like an advent wreath and a nativity). And the only new things I’m adding this year are giving the girls each two books about the Christmas story and promising myself we will read them as much as possible. If they can tell the story of Jesus’ birth by Christmas, I will consider it a success (age appropriately, obviously)! The other thing is we’re going to eat Mexican food on Dec. 12 – the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! :) I’m going to post a list of the books I bought them, fyi, so check our website for that later this week.

    • MelanieB says:

      Jen, I’ve been doing that the last couple of years. Adding a few new Christmas story books to our collection each year. It is a wonderful tradition and it didn’t take long to get a good library of new and used books. Last year just reading the Christmas story and playing with the nativity, my 3 year-old got so into it. She’d grab her dolly and put a baby blanket on her head and pretend to be Mary. She even would create mangers for the doll. It was very sweet and I knew I didn’t have to do anything else. She got it at the level she needed to get it.

      One of my favorites for toddlers is Who Is Coming to Our House, all the animals in the stable prepare for the coming of the child. I also love the book All for the Newborn Baby, a sweet lullaby that Mary sings for baby Jesus. Both of those seemed to really capture the imaginations of my little girls (aged 1 and 3 last Christmas).
      MelanieB recently posted..Good Day- Sun Shine

  57. Shannon says:

    Advent can also be a time to experience some other traditions. Las Posadas happens for nine days before Christmas, as Joseph and Mary search for a place to stay. You can do it one night, going to each door in your home and asking if there is room for this poor family.

  58. Kate says:

    If you get an Advent wreath with chocolate behind each window, the kids will remind you to do it every day. ;)

  59. Carol says:

    This is ME! Only thing is I don’t have an excuse. I’ve been celebrating Advent and Christmas all my life. Now I have my own babies. I think the key is “4 children under 7″ therefore it MUST be simple. Special prayer for you and hubby and something super simple for the kids.
    I have a toddler just under 2 and one due during the Christmastide. I have a large baby Jesus for some large cresh (sp?) I hope to build some day (probably won’t happen but I got Jesus). This second Christmas with my toddler she is more aware and again I will have her anticipate someone special with a little manger. And on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve midnight if we do it my husband’s family’s way. We/she will rock and sing to baby Jesus. That’s it. Just waiting. Until she’s older do I anticipate adding other educational Advent “projects” like “Posadas.” :) (My husband’s Mexican tradition is to select to people (I think usually done by the Matron of the home) to hold each end of a baby blanket, put the baby Jesus in the middle of it and rock him and sing him to sleep at midnight. Real sweet.)

  60. Judith says:

    With our four (who are “spread out, not close together like yours), we always kept the advent wreath in the center of the dining table and lit it for dinner, along with reading a short verse/prayer from a devotional book (we took turns reading as they were able) We had an advent tree, from my aunt, to hang little ornaments on for the first 24 days of December.
    Some years, one or more of them would spend a morning baking some sugar cookies with me; mostly they helped me order cookies from the local bakery!
    We kept Advent by itself up until maybe Dec.20 or 22, then added Christmas tree and decorations to the house. We always celebrated the 12 days of Christmas because it was then that we (both hubs and I are Lutheran ministers) could take time to travel to see family, bake, play, etc. The rest of the world was “done”, and we opened fun little gifts to play with (play doh; a new ball; coloring book), took snowy walks, and spent time reading/watching videos together.
    Worked for us. (Kids, now grown, still enjoy keeping the 12 days in their own homes)

  61. Margeux says:

    Never had the kids believe in santa claus, only the real St. Nick;

  62. Suzanne says:

    When my boys were little (8ish) and I had just converted to the Church, I was also unfamiliar with Advent. I read up a lot on it and found (not sure where, since there was no internet!) some very short simple things to do. I didn’t try to do anything each DAY of Advent, except maybe a special dinner time prayer; but each Sunday we had a special “Advent Dinner.” I would fix a simple dinner (usually soup and homemade bread,,,can’t go wrong there, even in a bread machine!) and we would have the dinner by candlelight. I had some story/devotion/short activity and we lit the Sunday’s candle. I can’t remember now if we did it before or after we ate (probably was after since i dont’ think 2 boys would sit waiting on dinner!) However, we still look back fondly on those times and I think it was a good introduction to all of us as to what the waiting of Advent really is. They still talk fondly about those dinners. (Having said that, they are now in their mid-20s, living independently and not regularly practicing their faith…but i know it’s in there!)

    I would encourage you really to just do one or two things and let the rest go. Or perhaps before Advent begins choose 2-3 things that you will do THIS year…maybe diff than the ones you did last year? Jennifer, your love of Jesus will exude to your children, I’m sure, as it does to those of us who read your blog, so don’t stress on the details!!

    Love, Suzanne

  63. Keep it simple:

    1) Set up Nativity set in prominent place (mantel?)…you can do the thing where Mary and Joseph start in a different room and get closer to the stable each day (if you won’t forget about them and they end up stuck in the bathroom on Christmas morning!) Or just set it all up and leave it.

    2) If you have spare brain cells and patience for one more thing, the advent wreath. Light the candles during dinner or some other time you are all sitting around together and can appreciate them. Use battery-operated tealights from Dollar Tree to reduce the fire hazard. :)

    3) If you want to get really Advent-y, stick some candy in your kids’ shoes on Dec. 5/6 for St. Nicholas Day. My kids put their Santa letters in their shoes the night before. They still get little treats in their stockings Xmas morning. We’re a both/and family.

  64. When my 5 were little we of course had the creche which we put under the tree after we put it up and said a Christmas tree blessing. Baby Jesus was put away until Christmas morning when whomever was oldest that year and then on down through the years until everyone had done it several times and now we’re starting over with our eldest’s kids, brought him reverently in and gently placed him in his creche on Christmas morning. While he is absent during advent, whenever a child feels he/she has done a good deed or a sacrifice, example: I didn’t smack my brother today even though he told me I’m as dumb as a rock. The child gets to put a piece of hay in the creche to make a comfy place for Jesus. We also have a blessing jar in which anyone can put in a note saying something or someone which has blessed them that day. Then when we light our Advent candles each evening at the dinner table and say our prayer over the food we read the blessings. We have a jar of blessings that we have kept for about 20 years now. It, and all our family traditions are treasures which help us stay closer to he reason for the season. My kids are mostly grown now but they all come home for Christmas and still insist on keeping to all the traditions.
    Cottage By The Sea recently posted..The McPups Do Sand

  65. Sandie says:

    The only thing we can consistently remember is lighting the candles of the Advent wreath at dinner. We place the wreath on the table at the beginning of Advent and the children light the appropriate number of candles as the weeks go by. We turn out all of the other lights so that you really get a feel for the Light is coming!

  66. syd says:

    I also really love the Crafty Crow.

    http://belladia.typepad.com/crafty_crow/

  67. robbie says:

    I’m a convert and I have an Advent Wreath and books of meditations by St. Francis of Assisi, Bishop Sheen and Father Groeschel. I enjoy lighting the candles and reading one of the meditations. It calms me after a hectic day. On Christmas Eve after the Vigil Mass, I decorate my tree and put the baby Jesus in the Nativity Set.

  68. Christy says:

    With 78 comments, you’ve already got plenty of advice. But I thought I’d chime in to prioritize the things you’ve listed, and explain why, especially within the context of having young kids in the home.

    1. If you do nothing else: Advent Wreath. It is the universal symbol of Advent. They will see it at church every week. Is is the Big Countdown. You’re probably sitting down for dinner together anyway, so lighting candles at the table is one tiny step that will make the whole month feel special even if you do literally nothing else, not even prayers.

    2. *If* you add one more thing: ONE prayer or carol nightly during the lighting of the Advent Wreath. Like others, I’d recommend O Come O Come Emmanuel (though there’s an argument for saving that until Dec 17, being the devotee of the Liturgy of the Hours that you are).

    3. If you add one final thing: The Jesse Tree. My kids are younger than yours, and they LOVE this tradition. We read a lot of Bible stories anyway, but there’s something pretty magical about reading stories with a larger narrative arc, thinking all the time about Jesus’ arrival and how it was foretold and made ready through the ages. I didn’t think, last year, that my then-4- and 2-year-olds would get that, but they totally did.

    The rest is really, really optional. Nice, but optional. If you want to celebrate a saint’s feast day, St Nicholas is the obvious one to start with — he is the patron saint of children. I think Advent crafting should be directed outward, not toward the production of random paper snowflakes or sticker nativity sets. If you want or need to craft, make gifts for others, or bags of toiletries for homeless shelters, or tins of cocoa to take to a nursing home. Tidings of comfort and joy!

  69. Monica says:

    One thing that really resonated with my kids last year was learning an Advent song. They already knew O Come O Come Emmanuel, which I love and is fantastic, but doesn’t really speak to what WE should do in getting ready. I taught them People, Look East last year, and we talked about all the different metaphors that are in the song. AND I emphasized the part about “make your house fair as you are able,” which meant that my kids (6, 3, and 1 at the time) got into the spirit of cleaning up to make our house fair for Baby Jesus. Okay, not the one-year-old.

    We do have a nativity set, and it’s not breakable, and the kids love to play with it.

    We put up our tree on the first Sunday of Advent and decorate with the big feasts that come along — for St. Nicholas’ feast day, we put candy canes on the tree (that’s his bishop’s crook), for Our Lady of Guadaulupe, we put tissue paper roses that we made, on St. Lucy’s day, we start turning the lights on the tree on, etc. The Christmas decorations go up on Christmas Eve.

    We do other things in a more-or-less spotty way, some Jesse tree, lots of seasonal read-aloud books, lighting the wreath at least on Sundays, etc. We also don’t eat desserts except on the feast days.

    I think that family traditions that work will evolve as your family celebrates season after season. Don’t worry about the EPIC FAIL — think what Jesus came to the first Christmas! The idea is to get yourself and your family thinking about preparing, not to kill yourself with trying to keep up with some meaningless standard of what a “good Catholic famiy” does!

  70. Erin says:

    Just start small, celebrate one tradition a year until you are comfortable before you add more. One step at a time. It can be so overwhelming I know, been there paralysed for many years.
    I did email you my ‘letter’ to my sister, not sure if it went through
    http://sevenlittleaustralians.blogspot.com/2009/11/creating-advent-traditions.html

    Blessings this Advent.
    Erin recently posted..7 Quick Takes Friday Vol 62

  71. Christina says:

    My four kids love the advent wreath. We take turns lighting the candles each night and saying the prayer that goes with it. It also connects our house with our church for they also have an advent wreath. It is easy to do once a day and doesn’t take much time.

  72. Alyson says:

    Our Faith is so deep, rich and full of tradition, it’s a tough one trying to decide which tradition to use. From my experience, it’s taken years of trying this and that, and it’s actually been great just experiencing different traditions.
    I learned early on that too much is exhausting and becomes meaningless. We use one only each year.

  73. Kim says:

    didn’t have time to read all the comments, maybe this one was given. i realized i had a ton of christmas books for kids (some more Christ-centered than others- Santa Mouse anyone?). last year, i wrapped each one one up and my son picked one before bed. we would have read a story anyway so the only prep was wrapping! The surprise element was fun. Enjoy!

  74. 8isGreat says:

    I agree the Advent wreath is the best place to begin. I used to have a large green one. There are ten of us around the table now and small and simple is best.
    Our metal wreath (with Irish designs) came with a card that includes a message from scripture Isaiah anticipating the coming of the Messiah. It includes one verse from “O Come, O Come Emannuel.” My children (3 to 19) love Advent because they love to light the candles and sing. In fact I’d like to find a simple song and a candle for each of the liturgical seasons!
    We do other things – but this is a great place to start.

    Oh, also to keep myself sane we don’t decorate the house with “Christmas” until we light the pink candle. The pink candle represents joy and we joyfully decorate the tree that week. We put white lights on the outside of the house earlier as a sign that we are waiting for the Light of Christ.

  75. I always, always, always make an advent wreath. However, this doesn’t have to be something elaborate. For instance, this year I’m just going to put four candles in candle holders with some greens between them, creating a simple but meaningfull centerpiece. At the moment, I’m also slowly collecting figurines for Christmas. I would love to have the complete Ostheimer Nativity set by the time I have children. Those are beautiful wooden figurines that can be played with. Unfortunately they’re also very expensive!
    Other traditions that are quite important in Belgium is Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). This is celebrated everywhere (school, work, shops, sport clubs …) and is quite a big deal around here. There’s no way I could ever skip Sinterklaas. There are a lot of sweets and children get presents.
    January 6, the feast of the three wise men used to be celebrated here extensively, but that tradition is disappearing. It was the custom that children would go from door to door, dressed like the wise men. They would sing and collect candy and money, often for a good cause (the money, not the candy ;-)). Our mother used to bake a cake on January 5 and threw in a red bean before baking. The one who found the bean in his piece of cake would be the ‘king’ on the sixth.
    These are traditions I would love to pass on to my children.
    Other traditions that I’m trying to establish is not to watch any movies or television during Advent, reading more books about Christmas and Christianity in general, attending daily mass or the Hours more often and cleaning my entire house during this period. I really want to prepare myself and my house for Christmas.
    This year I’m also going to try to get into the custom of fasting (not eating meat or snacks) on Fridays. I would love to have that as a habit by Easter, so I should start now. This is turning out much longer than I thought it would, maybe I should actually write a blog post on it!

    _
    I’m trying to find a family for Kate. Please help me spread the word.
    http://thisjourneyofmylife.wordpress.com/category/home-is-where-the-heart-is/kate/

  76. Therese Z says:

    As a cradle Catholic with German roots, I remember getting candy, an apple and a pair of socks in my shoes on St. Nicholas Day, which my mother says we didn’t get too excited about, but I’m glad they did it anyway.

    We ALWAYS had an Advent calendar, one for each of us to lower the tension, and as a single adult woman, I still have one.

    The biggest memory I have of Advent as a child is a teacher who told us about Jesus lying in that cold manger, born of poor parents, and that he needed a warm blanket, but all he had was one full of holes. Our good deeds done in Advent were like patches sewn on that blanket to keep the baby Jesus warm. Children can be very tender about a baby Jesus, and I think that’s a good part of bedtime storytelling and praying.

  77. Tiffany says:

    I’ve read your blog for a long time, but this is my first comment. :) I’m a cradle Catholic, but we never did any specific Advent activities growing up. Now that I have my own family, I can say that the 2 easiest, yet still highly festive :), things to do are:

    (1) Advent Wreath – light the candle(s) on Sundays and let them burn for a short time. Makes it a very special weekly event for the kids.

    (2) Advent Calendar – We get a chocolate one every year, but if you do this, each child will have to have their own, otherwise much tension will ensue. :) We also have a wood one. Even those paper ones are great. The kids love seeing what’s behind the window each day.

    And that’s it! Simple things, but it makes the season seem much more real. Good luck!

    Tiffany
    Tiffany recently posted..Holiday shopping- oh joy

  78. 'Becca says:

    I skimmed all the comments and didn’t see this idea: One year, my church gave out an Advent poster on which one day said, Advent is the season of waiting. When you find yourself waiting, pray. It’s simple and requires no special materials! And it’s great for young kids who know even one prayer because when you need them to wait before you can do something for them, you can tell them to pray while they wait; it helps the time go faster. For me, praying for someone other than myself works wonders to calm my impatience when someone is late, I’m stuck in traffic, it’s taking forever for the water to boil, etc.
    ‘Becca recently posted..Reflections on a Bathroom Renovation

  79. My husband and I both come from Catholic families, and our first Advent together, we were surprised to find that our families did a lot of the same traditions. My kids are young too (4 yo, 2 yo, 1 yo) so we thought a lot about how to adapt to their level. We have a stuffed nativity set that even the baby can play with. On the first Sunday of advent, I cut a lot of little pieces of “straw” from yellow construction paper and put it in a little bag. We explain to the kids that each time they do something virtuous (share their toys, help a sibling, clean up willingly, say their prayers, etc) that they are helping to prepare the world for Jesus at Christmas. TO show this, they get to put a piece of “straw” in the manger for each good action they do. The goal is to get all the straw into the manger and make a really soft bed for Jesus with all of our loving actions. It is a simple activity, but seems to work well with kids these ages. We also do an advent wreath (I recommend candles in glass containers!) and light it each night during the rosary. We sometimes sing “O Come O come Emmanuel” … depends on the attention level at that point. I like the point that some other readers make about holding off on all strictly Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve!
    Wellness Mama recently posted..Sample Meal Plans

  80. Chris says:

    Although my life is much different from yours (cradle catholic, adopted my child when she was eight) I’ll share my advent process. First, I journaled/reflected on what I need to have happen in order to feel good about Christmas 2010. I came up with:

    1) Have one moment of full awe (goosebumps, tears) over the nativity story. Years prior I would spend the season chasing that high over & over, eventually feeling disappointed when the thrill was gone, so to speak.
    2) Provide my child with a few occasions of pure Christmas joy
    3) Enjoy some of the wonderful movies of the season with my family
    4) Create a few warm memories with family/friends
    5) Make our home feel Christmasy

    Then I reflected on Christmases past that have brought about the above.

    1) Hearing O Holy Night on the car radio while driving alone then visualizing the first Christmas and being moved to tears
    2) an hour of sugar cookie decorating, an evening stuck in winter storm rush hour traffic that turned into loud silly family caroling in the car, homemade cocoa and a snuggly blankie on the couch while watching Rudolph on tv
    3) I have a very long list, from the usual greats that show up on TV every year, to the obscure religious (blockbuster online has a great claymation 1st Nativity for the kiddos), to the sadly forgotten (Bishop’s wife with Cary Grant as an angel) But I digress, I know you’re not a movie buff…
    4) Ice skating with my child and her godmother followed by singing carols in the car on the way home, having some dear friends over for dinner then spontaneously working on a big Christmas scene jigsaw puzzle together
    5) A little of each sense goes a long way: a few evergreen boughs and cinnamon potpourri (smell), christmas pandora station playing in the background (sound), a few lit candles around the creche (sight), candy cane sticks in hot cocoa (taste), snuggly snowman footie pj’s (touch)

    I’ll add that I go into the season knowing that the actual day will be full of tantrums, crankiness, stress, mayhem and fatigue. That’s why the season of advent is such a blessing, I have 28 days to cross off the items on the list and only one day to actually dread. ;-)

    As I noted, I know your life is much different than mine. You are more in the stage of discovering where you family’s moments will come from without the luxury of being able to reflect back. I hope I conveyed that at this time of year the simplest things bring kids the greatest joy and the long lasting memories. If I were you I would just do one special thing with each of the older kids–and remember that thing can be VERY simple. Keep a Christmas cd in the car with fun family sing along songs, rent the nativity claymation show & make cocoa. That’s all it takes–really!

  81. Melanie says:

    I have not been very successful with the Advent wreath though we have tried it several times. Advent is a time of preparing for the birth of Christ so we emphasize that for our children. About 4 years ago, we got each child a plain wooden box from Michael’s and let them paint it however they wanted. Each day during advent, the child does one thing for Jesus (help without being asked, share toys, etc.)and then writes it down on a piece of paper. We put the paper in their box and then the box is their gift to Jesus at Christmas. It helps them remember the best gift is the gift of themselves. My children are older: 15, 13, 10, 8.

  82. Jennifer says:

    Now, I’m a cradle Catholic – but I was raised a CREASTER – one who only enters church on Christmas and Easter. It was only about four years ago that my husband and I realized that we needed to celebrate Advent as a way to emphasize the meaning of Christmas. We keep it simple – the kids have always had their Advent calendar (thanks to their Auntie) – but we added an Advent wreath. I have found many devotional books to use with the wreath – which we light before we say Grace at dinner. But none of the books really have WOWED us – so this year we are doing a saint each night. I have a very simple First Book of Saints – one page per saint with a nice picture – and we’re going to take turns each night picking and reading the story of one saint. The very adventurous can go online and research a saint not in the book. So we’ll see how that works. And I’m buying a candle snuffer because I wind up with wax everywhere as they fight over “blow out” rights after dinner!

  83. Rachel says:

    Here’s what we’re establishing this year with an 18 month old (and one on the way). I figure I’ll add more as she gets older and maybe subtract as we get more kids!

    1- Advent wreath. Lit at dinner with prayer and singing O come O come.
    2- a construction paper countdown chain. If I get fancy I might add activities to do (simple things like printing out a coloring page that’s christmasy or going to see a local christmas light display). However, I LOVE this idea for older kids: http://aliedwards.com/2010/11/weekend-creative-advent-action-cards.html#more-5935 Actions are great and since her idea is one that you fill in the blanks for, you can put whatever you want. Make it more secular with Santa or keep it strictly spiritual.

    I’d love to get a nice Advent calendar, but it probably won’t be in our budget. It’s something that’s really nagging me though, so I might take it out of the budget for my gifts.

  84. Debbie says:

    For me the key has been selecting 1 or two things for Advent that can be done fairly easily AND not incorporating Christmas until, well, Christmas! We get our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, but don’t put lights on until the 3rd week of Advent (the pink week), then decorate it sometime during the fourth week. Using the Jesse tree during Advent gives us a bit of tree decoration in the mean time. I don’t send out Christmas cards until, well, Christmas! That takes a big stress off Advent. I TRY to keep Christmas as much out of the picture as I can until, well, Christmas. It’s not always possible, and my system isn’t perfect, but it HAS taken a lot of stress out of things and really helps us “feel” Advent a bit more and be ready to celebrate Christmas. Oh, one other thing I do that is very easy–grean wreath on our front door that each Sunday in Advent gets a purple or pink bow added to it. Christmas Eve a different and very celebratory Christmasy wreath is put up and typically stays there until Candlemas (Feb 2, I believe).

  85. Abigail Benjamin says:

    1) Advent Wreath, light one candle each Sunday night
    2) Make cookies (or brownies from a box) and give to a lonely neighbor
    3) BE A HERO, get a gift for your husband’s office staff early without him having to stress about it

  86. Michiel says:

    I feel the same way – Epic Failure. Last year, I got it together enough to read some really good Advent books to my kids. Tomie dePaola books especially. We did about 8 in all, including one on Our Lady of Guadaloupe, The Clown of God, Merry Christmas Strega Nona and others. I plan on doing the same thing this year, maybe adding and subtracting a few.

  87. Nicole says:

    I’m a cradle Catholic and I remember the chocolate calendars…I might add the advent wreath this years….Girlfriends and I get together and pray for each other during advent which in turns focus’s me on Christmas…. :) Other then that, we are good to go.

  88. Marie says:

    1) Do the advent wreath on the table every night at dinner.

    2) If necessary remove advent candles or even wreath to a safe palce when you’re not there to protect them – I have seen simple metal wreaths that are reasonablely indestrubtable.

    3) If necessary get battery operated advent candles. Real flames are nice. So is not being on first name basis with the fire department.

  89. Morgan says:

    I have 5 kids 5 and under, so for this season of our life we are keeping Advent simple. We do an Advent calendar and take turns opening the picture, and we light the Advent candles at dinner time. That’s it.

    I think this year I will add singing an Advent song, as some other commenters have suggested – a great idea!

  90. Jenny says:

    My stats: 4 girls age 4 & under (the oldest 2 are twins). Joined the Church Easter 2004 (though I did grow up Christian). Live in swampy New Orleans, where it doesn’t even get cold until… well, it doesn’t even get cold.

    My suggestions:
    1. a nativity set, but no baby Jesus until Christmas morning.
    2. a basket of Christmas-only kids books (my favorites: “Merry Christmas, Strega Nona” (the first line begins “On the first Sunday of Advent…”), “The Legend of Old Befana”, “The Legend of the Poinsettia” (all Tomie dePaola), “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”… can’t remember the others; they’re still put away!)
    3. recognizing Epiphany by giving the girls gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh on January 6 (“gold” was gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins (I got them online at Paidea Classics website), “frankincense” was a spicy scented candle that we lit at dinner until it was used up (we usually light plain white votives at dinner), “myrrh” was scented soap that the girls used at the washstand until it was used up). (To be clear: there was only one candle, one bar of soap–though each girl did get her own chocolate coin.)
    4. recognizing Gaudete Sunday by not turning on Christmas lights or decorating the tree until then. We get our tree earlier (otherwise, you can’t find one… mistake learned the first year!) but leave it bare until the 3rd Sunday.
    5. and totally, totally, an Advent wreath. We light ours each night at dinner, and my husband reads the short printed-in-the-box prayer (a different one for each week) before we say grace.

    I look forward to a recap of the suggestions you’ve gotten… I’ll admit to skipping the 110 preceding comments…

  91. Colleen says:

    Our family gathers together (that is, as many aunts, uncles, and cousins that can) to pray the Rosary on each Sunday of Advent. We meet around dinnertime, say the Rosary (always the Glorious Mysteries) and share a meal. It is a beautiful tradition and we really treasure it.

  92. Melissa says:

    As a Catholic, I grew up celebrating Advent. But my family never went all out on any thing special. What we do is we light the Advent candle and say the Advent prayer for that week. It’s short and simple and is a reminder of why we are doing it in the first place–to prepare for Jesus. You don’t even have to do it every night, maybe every Sunday evening. But since you have a lot of young ones who might not want to sit still for lighting a candle and listening to a prayer, you can always find some arts and crafts for them to do. Such as making their own advent wreaths out of construction paper and then adding a “flame” (aka an oval piece of yellow or orange paper) as the weeks go by. And you can explain the story to them. Or even just have a simple Nativity Scene in your home.

    Hope that helps! Have a wonderful Advent and Christmas! :)

  93. Jen says:

    This is from an email a friend of mine sent our homeschooling mom’s group. I especially think that the first book listed would be GREAT for an EASY easing into Advent Traditions with 4 young children!
    ———————-
    It’s that time of year again when I pull down my boxes of Christmas books and start making some plans for December! Perhaps you are doing the same. Or perhaps you are looking for some ways to make Advent and Christmas more meaningful, Christ-centered, and sacred for your family. I wanted to share some of our favorite resources, and perhaps some of you would like to do the same

    The ADVENTure of Christmas, by Lisa Whelchel. This little book was my first peek into the possibilities for bringing Jesus into every Christmas tradition. This book is concise (NOT overwhelming), pretty, and a wonderfully inspirational.
    http://www.amazon.com/Adventure-Christmas-Helping-Children-Traditions/dp/B002T451XG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289666416&sr=1-1

    Elizabeth Foss’ Advent/Christmas Book Lists, Lessons, and Links. Elizabeth Foss is a Catholic homeschooling mom of 9. She is a writer and book-lover, and generously shares her ideas here:
    http://www.elizabethfoss.com/reallearning/advent-and-.html#tp

    Our ALL TIME favorite Advent read ever….so far. “Jotham’s Journey “ is an adventure of a young boy in the Holy Land, and everything leads to the stable. Very well written, and laid out so that a chapter of the story is read each day of Advent, culminating Christmas morning. Even DADS love this one! The author, Mr. Ytreeide, has 2 sequels in print: Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels…and it looks like he has written a 4th called Amon’s Adventure that will be out soon!
    http://www.amazon.com/Jothams-Journey-Storybook-Arnold-Ytreeide/dp/0825441749/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289666354&sr=1-1

    The Jesse Tree: If you are not yet familiar with this lovely Advent tradition, check it out. It’s a scripture-filled journey that explores the heritage of Jesus Christ…and it makes a beautiful conversation piece in your home.

    Here’s an article:
    http://www.crivoice.org/jesse.html
    A few blog posts
    http://simplemom.net/jesse-tree/
    http://rocksinmydryer.typepad.com/shannon/2008/11/jesse-tree.html
    A book:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0806625244/ref=ord_cart_shr?ie=UTF8&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER

    Advent Wreath: Beautiful, easy, and fun, lighting the candles on the Advent Wreath is a lovely way to build anticipation and bring a since of sacredness to the Advent season! Candles lit on dark nights, tea or cocoa in hands, and a good book to share can make for lasting memories.

    Here’s an article:
    http://www.crivoice.org/cyadvent.html
    A devotional book:
    http://www.crivoice.org/cyadvent.html

    Santa Clause: When I was a young child, Christmas was all about Santa Claus. And even today, his image is everywhere during the Christmas season. Here is some information on the real man behind the story (sans flying reign deer!) I like knowing that the imagine of the “Jolly Old Elf” might bring to my children’s minds an image of a man deeply devoted to God, to spreading the Gospel, and to sacrificing his own wealth for the needs of the poor.

    Saint Nicholas Center Website
    http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=23
    Jen recently posted..Clothing the Masses

  94. sheila says:

    Hey,
    Looks like you’ve recieved some excellent suggestions. We did the “travelling” nativity scene for years. In my family as the only catholic growing up, I was able to decide the traditions myself. We opened the majority of our gifts on Christmas day, however we each selected a gift to open on the feast of St. Nicholas and one to be held for the feast of the epiphany.

    A couple I know from OCDS have 11 kids and they have a custom that I think would be very adaptable for the holiday. They obtained ten knitted /crocheted roses. Each evening they say the rosary together as a family. On the floor they place a statue of Our Lady with an empty basket in front of her. For each hail mary they say, the smaller kids take a rose up to the basket for Mary. Since your children are so young, I thought it might be something they’d enjoy doing. Perhaps they could combine that with the suggestion about the empty manger. By praying for intentions that they’ve noticed (both directly and on tv such as the news)during the day or week they can earn the right to place straw and bedding in the manger for Jesus. It’s a take on the old monastic tradition of doing spiritual bouquets for people. (yes, I used to be in a monastery. lol) Anyway I hope these suggestions help. Just keep in mind you don’t have to do it all at once. Take your time and add just one or two traditions. Don’t be afraid to let them go if they don’t work out with your schedule and needs for a particular year. Maybe talk with the oldest of your little ones about the possible traditons and see which ones would mean the most to them. Good luck hun, let us know how things go. huggles. -sheila

  95. Aislinn says:

    Although I’ve been Catholic all my life Advent was never explicitly ‘celebrated’ in my home growing up. Now a mother for the first Advent season my daughter might actually notice, my husband (a convert who also grew up without Advent) and I struggle with some of the same concerns you have. So while I dont have too much to offer, I thought I’d just point out the obvious. Start with the Advent prayers (or songs, since these too are a wonderful way of praying). Prayer will always open your heart and your time, and it will unlock your ability to use patience and temperance throughout the season. Best Advent wishes!

  96. We set up a cool olive wood nativity set that I inherited from my grandma. It’s pretty indestructible and it, of course, reminds me of grandma. We all look forward to its appearance every year and some day I’ll pass it along to my daughter. I also let my kids, age 6 and 3, pick out a disposable advent calendar every year. They love the ones with candy. Finally, advent wreaths on the table are easy and there’s something about eating by candlelight that appeals to everyone. I let the kids take turns blowing out the candles, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is to my kids!

  97. Lizzie says:

    Hello again – you’ve probably seen this already but this version of an Advent Wreath is beautiful and links to Lent and Easter too. Ann at Holy Experience’s son makes them.
    http://adventtolenttoascensionwreath.blogspot.com/

  98. Kimi says:

    If I can mention to you, Your Church should have a little Blue or Black book that can help you threw This Advent. Today is the feast Day of St. Andrew and it is called the Christmas Novena to God where all prayers said at this time until the 25th will be answered but must pray the novena 15 teen times a day until Christmas. This is a way also to love Jesus and honor his birth!!! PS. Look up St. Andrew Christmas Novena to get started. What a gift to give someone you love who may need the Lords help or any intention you may Have. Gods Blessing to All.

  99. Heidi says:

    I know all about Advent failures! I also know that sometimes the efforts that I put into family Advent preparations feel burdensome and fruitless. But having 8 children from 24 to 1 I can tell you that a simple candlelit Advent wreath and a verse of o come o come Emmanuel has a lasting impact on them, even if you do nothing else! We sing as we light the candles, and at Christmas we switch to Joy to the World, or some other Christmas carol!

    I just wrote a blog post on this subject at Journey to Wisdom, http://journeytowisdom-ocbs.blogspot.com/2011/11/light-candle-jesus-is-coming.html!

    Thanks for your writing Jen. I have sent more than a few people your way!