“Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ!”
That was our joyful processional prayer the first week of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, and the start of our time of preparation for the festivities of Christ’s nativity Mass (Christmas, of course!). Our family has some special Advent traditions. Some of them have worked perfectly and others have been ridiculous, but we try. Here are some workable Howell favorites.
The rubbermaids get dragged out of the cellar. These things are packed with items only seen during Advent and Christmas season, which officially ends on the feast of the baptism of the Lord, January 11. They are unpacked and exclaimed over as beloved books, movies, and ornaments emerge. I transform as much of the house as possible, replacing regular living room books, blankets, and pictures with Christmas ones and wrapping our framed artwork with paper and ribbons to look like presents.
The children pick each other’s names out of a hat and purchase a present just for that one. With seven kids, it’s less overwhelming to choose just one. The younger ones do extra jobs for extra money and I take each child out on an Advent date, complete with a fancy hot chocolate from a coffee shop. A little one always spills the beans and “tells,” though. Like I said, we try.
I crush hundreds of peppermint candies and keep a bag of the pretty pink stuff on the counter to be added to drinks, desserts, and whatever else they think of (one even sprinkles it on his breakfast oatmeal). We roll dipped pretzels in it for gift trays and almost every treat I make gets dusted with some.
We pray the Saint Andrew Novena. It is traditionally recited fifteen times a day from the feast of the good saint, November 30, to Christmas Eve. Although a novena is a prayer or devotion repeated for nine days like the nine days of waiting for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost or the nine months of waiting for Jesus in the womb of Mary, it is also associated with any repeated, prayful anticipation. So we pray the waiting words together, a third for our morning prayers, a third in the evening by the glowing tree, and a third on our own. The contemplative cadence is calming and grounding this time of year. “Hail and blessed is the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary….”
We light candles on an Advent wreath during dinner, three purple ones for preparation and a pink one for rejoicing; and add to our usual grace, “Adeste fideles; venite adoremus!” (“O come, all ye faithful, let us adore Him!”) This year, we have some budding musicians learning to play this on the piano and recorder. We hope for a mini-concert on Christmas Eve, before another of our favorite traditions that night, a watching of Dickens’ Christmas Carol (we like the one with George C. Scott).
One afternoon is spent at the table with art supplies, from glitter to glue to tissue paper, creating cards for the East Coast relatives. We have mugs of warm drinks (sprinkled with crushed peppermints, of course) and carols blaring. I have to constantly remind the older children that it’s a great compliment when the little ones copy their ideas. Also, “Be nice, because it’s almost Christmas.”
We memorize two Scriptures, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. This year we’ll learn Isaiah 9:6 – “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders and his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” Our New Testament verse is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the father full of grace and truth.” Over the years, we’ve already covered them, but it’s good to come full circle.
We take a morning to spend some time in church when it is empty. No service, no music, just silence and beauty. Surprisingly, the younger ones remain relaxed and charmed by the lovely open space. We also make sure to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before Christmas, too.
The Catholic Church’s liturgical notes for Advent read, “Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the solemnity of Christmas in which the first coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered; and likewise a time when by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” Our Masses are ordered thus by way of Scripture readings, homilies, prayers, and devotions, and we try to make our home, regarded as a domestic church, so ordered as well.