Have you made plans yet for Advent? Is Advent a spiritual time for you or is it all about shopping, decorating the house and the tree, Christmas parties, and so much more? Do you add anything to your spiritual routines during this time (much like we often do during Lent)?
Advent, at least in my experience, often seems to get lost in the shuffle of Christmas. It doesn’t help much that Christmas decorations, Christmas ads/commercials, and Christmas music has been everywhere since Halloween or earlier. Yet, like Lent, Advent is also a penitential season. It’s a time of preparation, but not the kind of preparation the secular world is doing. As Catholics we are preparing for the upcoming birth of our Lord and Savior as well as preparing for His eventual second coming. Advent, therefore, is a good time to help us focus our minds and hearts on Christ. We should do so intentionally, not trying to do too much, but doing at least one thing (more if you can swing it) to help us focus on the true reason for the season.
Thus I decided that this was a good time to put together a new “handy dandy list” in the same vein as the Lenten list I created (with LOTS of help) a few years back. I’ve divided this list into seven broad categories. A few items could have fit easily into more than one, so I had to make a few judgment calls. Overall, it should be easy to scan through each list for ideas.
So, read through the list, pick out one or two or more things you like, and make an intentional effort to have a prayerful Advent. I wish you many blessings as we begin a new liturgical year and spend approximately the next four weeks preparing for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Without further ado, here is your Handy Dandy List to an Intentional Advent.
Why do we even have a special time set aside in the liturgical calendar to prepare ourselves for Christ’s birth? Why do we even call it Advent? Before the new liturgical year starts, how about checking out a bit of Catholic Church history using these resources:
- A short history of the history and meaning of Advent with some discussion of present day traditions and liturgical practices from Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
- Fr. William Saunders answers the question: How did the celebration of Advent come about?
- For a very detailed history of the origins and practices of Advent, see this article from Catholic News Agency.
- St. Andrew Christmas novena, see the November 30-December 24 version here and the nine day version here
- Celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), see here for a variety of traditions around the world
- Attend Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8)
- Go to confession and/or a Reconciliation service before Christmas
- Fast (one day a week, three days a week, the whole season, whatever works for you) or abstain from meat (or another food of your choice)
- CRS Fair Trade Advent prayers
- Daily Advent reflections from Fr. Barron and Word on Fire (follow the link to sign up for them to arrive in your email daily)
- Attend a Parish Retreat at your parish or a neighboring parish, or find a one day or a weekend retreat in your area
- Give something up for Advent (who says you can only do that during Lent?)
Family or Group Activities
- NEW for 2015 – download and print this Advent calendar chock full of great ideas to keep you focused on the season.
- Do a Jesse tree with your family, Catechism class, homeschool group, or other group
- Keep an Advent wreath in your home. My family lights it each night before dinner. Alternatively, if you’re a teacher (Catholic school or in a catechism class) you can do an Advent wreath by cutting out leaves from construction paper, have children write their sacrifices on them, make an Advent wreath out of the leaves (posted on a door or wall), and then make Advent candles out of construction paper to adorn the wreath.
- Get each child a paper Advent calendar (especially those with pieces of chocolate in them!) or create one of those paper chains to count down the days until Advent.
- Join in on the Advent Photo Journey on Instagram sponsored by Catholic Sistas (details coming soon so stay tuned!)
- Do an Advent version of Secret Santa. I’ve seen various names, including Secret Saints or Advent Angels. Pull together a small group of friends, arrange a way to pull names so that everyone has a person to pray for during the Advent season (Elfster is a great resource for matching people up without anyone knowing who has who). You can have participants pray for each other, do a small gift exchange, exchange favorite holiday recipes, or any combination or anything else that you and your group wants to do. Whatever you do, make it simple, cost effective, and fun and meaningful for participants
- Make a manger out of any used container, shoebox, etc. and allow children to place a piece of straw in it for each act of kindness during the season. Place a baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve.
- Get the AdventAdventure.com from Holy Heroes.
- Our very own Ink Slinger Christi has written an Advent book that families can do together. Check out her website Advent Journey with Mary and Joseph to buy the book and use the free online resources.
- Check out lots of free coloring pages, including Advent wreath pages, an Advent Calendar coloring page, Christmas coloring pages, and much more at Saint Anne’s Helper.
Advent is a great time to get involved in some form of community service.
- Make gift bags for the homeless (toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc.) and donate to a shelter (call ahead to find out what their needs are)
- Volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or other type of shelter
- Participate in an adopt-a-family or adopt-a-child program, many churches will have special programs at this time of year
- Bring your kids along and donate to Toys for Tots
- Visit a local nursing home, even better get a group together to go sing Christmas carols for the residents
- Invite someone to your home for Christmas who otherwise has no where else to go (an elderly parishioner, a neighbor, college students, particularly international students, who may not be able to go home for the holidays)
Besides the books already mentioned in the sections above, here are some more that I am aware of or have recently heard about. All of these can be helpful in having an intentional Advent.
- The Magnificat Advent Companion 2014
- Welcome Baby Jesus: Advent and Christmas Reflections for Families by Sarah Reinhard
- Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and still does) Scott Hahn
- A Eucharistic Christmas: Advent Meditations on the Presence of Christ
- And check out Lisa Hendey’s interview with editor Louise Pare.
- Sacred Space: for Advent and the Christmas Season 2014-15 by the Irish Jesuits
- The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2014 by R. Scott Hurd
- And for the kids check out this list of 25 Jesus-Centered Christmas Books to Celebrate Advent.
Music or other Entertainment
There’s nothing like relaxing with some nice music. For this Advent season, here is some suggested music that help set a contemplative atmosphere.
- Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
- Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
- A traditional Advent tradition is the chanting of what is known as the O antiphons. These seven antiphons are sung, one each night, from December 17 to 23 at Vespers (evening prayer). They are included on a variety of sound recordings, one I found that received good reviews is The Great “O” Antiphons by the Choirs of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA.
- NEW ADDITION: I just discovered a free app available for iOS devises (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and Android called Musical Advent Calendar 2014 (Google store version HERE) from Naxos Digital Services. It contains 25 “doors” you can open starting on December 1 (so not true to the Advent season as us Catholics define it) with a musical selection for each day. Worth checking out, I just downloaded it myself.
- Attend a Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah, the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or any other Christmas production being performed in your area
More Blog Posts and Articles on Advent
Want more Advent inspiration? Here are more articles and blog posts to enjoy:
- For Advent posts on Catholic Sistas see the Archives page here.
- Advent and Christmas resources for children from Aquinas and More
- 10 Things to do During Advent at EpicPew
- Plan Now for a Peaceful Advent by Sarah Damm at CatholicMom.com