Advent begins this year on Sunday, November 30. How do you plan to spend the time leading up to Christmas? Will you use it to go into frenzied shopping mode? Or will you choose to use it as a time for reflection on the mystery that is the Incarnation and Birth of the Christ Child? If the latter, here are a few ideas that might come in helpful.
1. Advent Reflections
What would Advent be without reflections and readings? Holy Apostles College and Seminary, each day during Advent will send you a reflection on some part of the season; the saints, the readings, the faith. Registration is right here takes a matter of seconds and these are always great. I know Fr. Robert Barron’s ones are also very popular and are right here.
2. Begin a Tradition of the Advent Wreath in Your Home
While the actual origins of the Advent wreath are uncertain, it is known that pre-Christian Germanic peoples used a wreath with candles as a sign of hope that the dark days of winter would not last forever. Earlier than this, Tertullian writes about Christians hanging wreathes and laurels in the doorways.
The wreath consists of evergreens (symbolizing continuous life) with four candles (traditionally three purple and one rose, the purple symbolizing prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and the rose rejoicing that preparations for the arrival of the Christ are half over as we are at the midpoint of Advent).
Learn how to make yours here. The Catholic Company is a nice place to shop. For more about Advent wreathes and their use in the home read We Light the Candles: Devotions Related to Family Use of the Advent Wreath.
3. Get a Book of Advent Reflections
To help you focus your thoughts during this time of waiting and anticipation. Several suggestions are A Monastery Journey to Christmas, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas or Waiting Here for You: An Advent Journey of Hope are fabulous choices. Each of these books contains a series of readings that will take you from the beginning of Advent through the Christmas season. The readings will remind you that in the quiet of the season as we approach the shortest, darkest day of winter there is hope in the form of the light of the Christ child.
4. The Jesse Tree
Similar to an Advent wreath, but a bit more involved in that there are particular prayers and activities each day is the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree celebrates the entirety of Salvation History, beginning with Creation as the starting point in our journey to Christ. Here’s an affordable one we found on the interwebs. For more about this beautiful custom, particularly enjoyable for children, are either of the following books: The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults or Advent Devotional: The Jesse Tree.
5. Get your Children an Advent Calendar
These can be the one use types that you buy at the grocery store, although it’s sometimes difficult to find a Christian themed one (most are Santa Claus). Here are three nice ones: Peaceful Prince, No Room at the Inn or Holy Family Advent Calendar. But you really ought to consider a calendar that is timeless and can be passed on to future generations. You can find these heirlooms at local Christian stores or on the internet. Amazon has a few nice ones: Wooden Nativity Advent Calendar or Nativity Fabric Advent Calendar.
6. Make a Pilgrimage to a Local Marian Shrine or Cathedral
Make a day of it (or even an overnight trip) and go for Mass on a Sunday, take a tour. If the shrine or cathedral is in a larger town or city, check out local art exhibits or music events for one with a Christmas or Christian theme. You might find a performance of the Messiah or A Christmas Carol – sometimes these are done by professional groups but often you can find a local church choir or even a local high school performing one of these.
7. Commit to Helping Someone Else During Advent and/or Throughout the Year
Take your children and shop for someone less fortunate than yourself. Many parishes have “wish lists” of things needed by disadvantaged parishoners or community members. There is Toys for Tots run by the Marines. Offer to help an elderly parishioner with grocery shopping or needed transportation. Invite a parishioner without family to come share your Christmas dinner.
8. Resolve to Keep Advent a Season of Reflection and Quiet
Forego the numerous holiday celebrations where the food and the alcohol flow freely and choose just a few of the most important and meaningful holiday gatherings to attend. Don’t overextend yourself. Go for walks by yourself, with family and friends. Get enough sleep and don’t overindulge at gatherings. Turn the TV off and listen to sacred music appropriate for the season. Here are a few suggestions: Handel’s Messiah, Advent at Ephesus, Puer Natus Est – Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas.
9. Make a Retreat
There are many one day or overnight retreats that are offered throughout the United States during the Advent Season. Check your local parish newsletter, diocesan webpage or simply a Google search to find one convenient to where you live. Even if you can’t find one that works for you, it is possible to do your own mini-retreat right at home. A book that is more action oriented in its reflections is The Unsheltered Heart: An At-Home Advent Retreat.
10. Go to Confession before Christmas Day
Do more than the minimum obligation for Catholics of one Confession yearly. Go and cleanse your soul in anticipation of the great feast of His birth.
Whatever you choose, be sure to keep Christ front and center always throughout the season. Reflect on the centrality of His message to our world and for your life. Let His love for you be the first thought on your mind upon arising and the last thought upon retiring for the night. Practice gratefulness and charity. Take care of yourself that you might better take care of those around you.