I love Advent. Love love love it! Possibly my favourite season of the year. On the first Sunday we unpack the wreath and candles and begin our Advent prayer ritual, Advent hymns, at least a decade of the rosary, especially the first two Joyful Mysteries, and some Christmas carol practice. One lucky child per night lights the candle, opens the door on this year’s little paper calendar and holds it up to the flame to illuminate the little picture inside. Then he chooses one paper bundle from the box and unwraps a figurine for the creche. The scene slowly fills with shepherds, and friendly beasts. Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem. Tonight they will reach the hall windowsill as they wind their way through the house on their way to the stable above the fire place. We’ve also developed a fun Christmas tree tradition. We will most likely go cut the tree this coming weekend and erect it in the livingroom, but we will leave it bare for a week or two, and then add only lights, then a week later icicles, and finally all the riot of ornaments on Christmas Eve before the vigil. I enjoy the season of breathless anticipation so thoroughly I’m maybe even a tiny touch sad to see it go. Perhaps this is because I’m so scrupulously avoiding preemptively celebrating Christmas that I’m not ready when it arrives.
Advent waiting is often compared to the pregnancy of a mother. As the Virgin Mary prepared for the birth of her child in excitement and nervousness so the world waited longingly for the savior. We focus, as we should, on spiritual preparation so that we can properly welcome our God and King. But, as any expectant mother knows, there are many practical considerations for the arrival of a baby. We don’t just prepare ourselves mentally, we have to buy clothes and put meals in the freezer, prepare the nursery and so forth. Well, sometimes I think I’m so focused on not jumping the gun with celebration before Christmas that all of a sudden the season is upon me and I don’t have everything laid up in readiness. My soul is in order, but my house is not. So this year I am setting aside time during Advent not only to get to confession, not only for prayers around the wreath, not only in preparing for a fabulous Christmas morning, but also in gathering everything I need to make all twelve days of Christmas joy-full.
One of the jobs of the homemaker is to be a joymaker. I see now that joy takes a lot of hard work. All those little notes my mum stuck in my lunch box, all the laundry and packing she did for a week on the Gulf Islands, all the wrapping and unwrapping of treasured ornaments for the tree each year. With small children, who can have the attention span of gnats, one key to joy is freshness. It is easy to tell children that Christmas begins on the 25th and goes to Epiphany. It’s harder to live this message when the presents are all unwrapped by noon Christmas Day and the cookies run out within 48 hours. To teach them the meaning of the Christmas season means putting in the effort to really make all twelve days extra-ordinary. And that effort really needs to be wedged in somewhere amidst the Advent activities and the Christmas shopping, because if you wake up on the 26th without a plan, it’s probably too late. Because the key to great preparation is writing lists so that you can misplace them, here are some of the ideas I’ve gathered during my work for joy so far.
1) Make enough cookies to last twelve days. That’s a lot of cookies!! Send the boys out on a boy day and have a girls day home to bake a second batch around Day 6. Make an effort to have pancakes, molasses cake, french toast, eggs Benedict and so forth for hot breakfasts as many days of the 12 as possible.
2) Gather small gift ideas to set at the children’s places at the breakfast table or in their Christmas stockings each day. Very easy sweets like Rice Krispie treats or buckeye balls, stickers and colouring pages, holy cards and medals, funny or personal notes from Mum and Dad, a book or new music to share.
3) Set the Wise Men journeying to the creche. Right now Mary and Joseph are travelling through our home to Bethlehem. Once they arrive and Jesus is in the manger the Magi will begin their procession along the window sills.
4) Celebrate Boxing Day! Boxing Day, Dec. 26th, has mostly become Black Friday’s evil twin, but originally it was a day to give to the poor and to those in service. Pack up the toys and clothes we’ve outgrown or donate some food to a local pantry. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen. Carol for the day: Good King Wenceslas, who on the Feast of Stephen, brought flesh and wine and pine logs to a beggar. “Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”
5) Celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28th. Some great info from Fish Eaters. Love the idea of letting the kids “rule” the day. We will also say some special prayers for an end to abortion. Carol for the Day: Coventry Carol, one of my personal favourites although it is so sad. It is beautifully sad.
6) Plan a family outting. Science centre, movie theatre, museum, trip to the park if you live somewhere warm enough.
7) Sing or recite the Veni Creator Spiritus on Jan 1. A plenary indulgence may be obtained by those who do so. This day is also the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, a Holy Day of Obligation and a reason to feast.
8) Throw an Epiphany party. Bless the home for the year.
Hopefully by accomplishing some or all of the things on this list our Christmas season this year will truly be a season.
For many more resources to plan an abundant Christmas season, visit the liturgical year section at CatholicCulture.org. Each day has a list of prayers, recipes and activities.