Christmas is such a tremendous day in the Catholic Church that it can’t be celebrated just on one day. That’s why the Church prepares with Advent, a time set aside to prepare our bodies and souls for the celebration of the Christ Child.
Even though radio stations and department stores have been celebrating Christmas for over a month now, there’s still ways to live in expectation and waiting during this season.
If you’re looking for unique ways to celebrate this advent, look no further than “Around the Year with the von Trapp Family,” by Maria Augusta von Trapp, whose story was famously told in “The Sound of Music.”
When Hitler’s troops invaded Austria in 1938, Maria and her husband fled to New York City to save their family. The fourteen of them had four dollars to their name and no friends or relatives in their new home. But that didn’t stop them from celebrating life together.
“I realize, of course, that the customs that accompany our life are predominately Austrian, and that other countries have developed ways of sanctifying life, equally valid. Still, our Austrian ones are an expression of a deeply Catholic feeling, and they have grown out of times and from people who found it natural to carry over their beliefs in forms of everyday life,” Maria writes.
“Around the Year with the von Trapp Family” is a beautiful resource for anyone exploring what it means to live liturgically. If you want your earthly home this Advent to be a reflection of your eternal home to come, try out these six unique traditions!
1. Choosing saints
Every year after lighting the Advent wreath, the von Trapp family passed around a bowl full of slips of paper. Each paper bore the name of a saint. When the children chose a saint, they would spend the next year getting to know their new Heavenly friend.
“Everyone is supposed to look up and study the life story of his new friend, and sometime during the coming year, he will tell the family all about it,” Maria writes. “Sometime this calls for considerable research on the part of the unfortunate one who has drawn St. Eustachius, for instance, or St. Bibiana. But the custom has become very dear to us, and every year it seems as if the family circle has enlarged by all those new brothers and sisters entering in and becoming known and loved by all.”
Looking for a modern twist on the tradition of choosing a saint? Check out this awesome saint name generator that Jennifer Fulwiler created!
If you’re looking for an Advent tradition to encourage generosity in your family, you’ll love Christkindl.
Each person in the family draws the name of a family member. During Advent, family members spend time doing little favors for the person they’ve drawn.
“This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness,” Maria writes. “Perhaps you will find that somebody has made your bed or shined your shoes or has informed you, in a disguised handwriting on a holy card that ‘a Rosary has been said for you today,’ or a number of sacrifices has been offered up.
In Austria, this tradition is known as Christkindl, or Christ Child, since it’s traditionally thought that the Christ Child himself brings the gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.
3. Letters to the Holy Child
You may have heard of writing letters to Santa Clause as a child, but have you ever written a letter to the Christ Child?
“According to Austrian custom, every member of the family writes a letter to the Holy Child mentioning his resolutions for the weeks of Advent and listing all of his wishes for gifts,” writes Maria. “This letter is put on the windowsill, from which the guardian angel will take it to Heaven to read it aloud to the Holy Child.”
4. Saint Thomas’s Day
What better day than Saint Thomas Day to start your holiday baking? Although the saint’s feast day is now celebrated on July 3, it was traditionally celebrated on December 21. For the von Trapp family, the day brought loads of Christmas baked goods.
“From now on, the house will be filled with a cloud of delicious smells. Some of the Christmas treats, the choicest delicacies in the realm of cookies and candies, will be hung on the Christmas tree, which is altogether different than the American one,” Maria explains.
5. Advent hymns
“It cannot be said often enough that during these weeks before Christmas, songs and hymns of Advent should be sung,” Maria writes. “No Christmas carols! Consciously we should work toward restoring to these precious weeks before Christmas the true character of waiting and longing.”
So just what hymns did the von Trapp family sing? In the book, Maria shares her love of “Ye Heavens, Dew Drop From Above,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and “O Savior, Heaven’s Portal Rend.”
6. Speculaas cookies
No Austrian Advent would be complete without speculaas a special Dutch cookie in the shape of Saint Nicholas.
To make the cookies, gather the following ingredients:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup lard
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 4 1/2 cups sifted flour
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cream the butter, lard, and sugar. Add sour cream, alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Stir in nuts. Knead the dough into rolls. Wrap the rolls in waxed paper and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Roll the dough very thin and cut it into shapes. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for ten to fifteen minutes.