Consider decorating a process rather than a box to check.

Decorate throughout Advent.  Start by taking out all of the Nativity sets, adding a few pieces at a time, as well as the Advent calendars to mark our days, and Christmas books to read with the kids.  Then, slowly add things over the coming days and weeks. 

Advent Calendars

When you are observing Advent as a time of waiting, your kids are sure to want to know how much longer?  They will probably want to know how much longer a couple of times per day.  A good way to satisfy that desire and to thwart at least a few of the questions, is to have an Advent calendar around the house.

There are dozens of types to choose from - homemade or storebought, disposable or reusable.  The key, I think, is finding one that encourages the spirit of waiting and preparing that we are hoping to foster in this season, rather than a spirit of receiving.

Advent Wreaths

The exact origins of the Advent wreath are unknown.  It appears that pre-Christian Germanic peoples used wreaths lit with candles during wintertime as a sign of hope that warmer and longer days would return in the spring.  During the Middle Ages, some Christians were using wreaths with candles to prepare for the coming of Christmas, and the practice was observed by both Protestants and Catholics in the 1600’s.  Advent wreaths were then brought to the United States by German immigrants.

The Advent wreath is really an archetype of liturgical living in the home.  It was used in Catholic homes and schools for decades before an official blessing of the Advent wreath was included in the 1976 revision of the Rituale Romanum, the Church’s official book of prayers and blessings, which meant it could be used in churches.  Pope St. John Paul II was the first to bring the tradition of the Advent wreath to the Vatican, since it’s not a historically Italian tradition, and the Vatican has had one ever since.

An Advent wreath is a beautiful way to talk about religious symbolism with kids.  The circle of the wreath, with no beginning or end, symbolizes God’s eternal nature.  The evergreen branches signify the immortality of the soul.  Decorative pine cones or seed pods represent new life and resurrection.  The four candles remind us of the four weeks of Advent and also the four thousands years from the creation of Adam and Eve to the birth of Jesus Christ.  The candle flames symbolize the light of Christ. 

The four candles are red in Germany and also in the wreath used at the Vatican.  In the United States, it is customary to use three purple candles and one pink candle.  The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, one of the two Sundays of the year when the priest may wear rose-colored vestments.  Gaudete Sunday is celebrated as a day of rejoicing because we have reached the halfway point of Advent and are that much closer to Christmas!  On Christmas Eve, the four Advent candles are traditionally replaced with one large white Christmas candle in the center of the wreath, to light during the Christmas season. 

When choosing or creating an Advent wreath for your home, it’s good to be mindful of all this great symbolism associated with the traditional shape and materials, so your family can appreciate each aspect of it.

It’s also good to remember that there is a strong preference (but not an official mandate) in various Church documents for the use of natural rather than artificial materials for religious purposes whenever possible.  “Fake” greenery and “fake” (battery-operated, for example) are not ideal for use in a sacramental.   

Celebrate Catholic New Year’s Eve

The beginning of the liturgical year is the first Sunday of Advent.  So Catholic New Year’s Day isn’t January 1; it’s at the end of November or the beginning of December, when the season of Advent begins.  “Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and embracing four Sundays.”  The first Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3, either during the weekend of American Thanksgiving or the weekend afterward. 

The Mass readings on the first Sunday of Advent are all about vigiliance and waking up, and staying awake:

“Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13: 11)

“Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore, you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24: 42-44)

“Take heed, watch and pray for you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Watch therefore - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning - lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.” (Mark 13: 33 - 37)

It really is the perfect night to try to stay up late!