Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Before I was Catholic I’d never even heard of Advent, so, needless to say, I had no idea how to incorporate this liturgical season into our family’s lives after our conversion. The first year I attempted it, I tried to do a wreath and a Jesse Tree and a daily prayer chain and a big St. Nicholas feast and the thing where the kids write down good deeds on slips of paper and put them in baby Jesus’ crib so it’ll be all soft when he arrives. Not surprisingly, I’d bitten off way more than I could chew, and by Christmas had abandoned pretty much all of the endeavors.
Last year I was determined not to have another Epic Advent Fail, so I asked readers of my personal blog to give me some suggestions for super simple steps I could take to begin to observe this season. The post received over 100 comments, and I walked away with an arsenal full of Advent ideas so easy that even I could handle them. For fellow converts or anyone else who needs some baby steps to get started celebrating Advent, here are eight of my favorite ideas from my readers:
1. Have special Sunday Advent dinners: “When my boys were little, I didn’t try to do anything each DAY of Advent, except maybe a special dinner time prayer; but each Sunday we had a special ‘Advent Dinner.’ I would fix a simple dinner and we would eat by candlelight. I had some story / devotion / short activity and we lit the Sunday’s candle…They still talk fondly about those dinners.” – Suzanne
2. Wrap favorite seasonal books: “A friend of mine started an Advent tradition years ago: She would wrap up kids’ books about Christmas with plain tissue paper and put them in a basket. Every night before bed, one of her kids would get to unwrap a book and together they would read it as a family. The books would get re-used year after year, and so it was exciting to revisit these books which only came out once a year. If you keep your eyes open at rummage sales, you can collect this many books about Christmas easily. The books stimulate discussion and prayer and family time each night.” - Charlotte
3. Wrap your tree in prayer: “We made an Advent paper chain. Each day we chose three things to pray for, and wrote one name on each link: someone we didn’t know (a four-year-old girl in India), someone we did know (a friend or relative), and some way we’d like to grow (patience, etc). We kept adding to the chain, and by Christmas could ‘wrap our tree in prayer.’ Really simple, and okay if you miss a few days here and there.” – Julia
4. Act out the Christmas story with your manger set: “Several times during Advent I like to sit down with the [manger set] figures and read a simple version of the Nativity story with the kids, sort of acting it out by holding the various figures when they are mentioned by the text. Again, no stress about trying to do it every day or anything. Just when I first put it up and then when I have the time. Maybe once or twice a week or so.” - Melanie
5. Have the Holy Family move toward the creche: “We have a Nativity set that we set out on one side of the room. On the other side we set out the Holy Family. Each Sunday of Advent we move them a little closer to the creche (they circle the room) and talk about the journey Mary and Joseph took.” - Natalile
6. Sing a special song at dinner: “Sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel before dinner. If an Advent wreath is too much, light some candles. Turn out the lights…Print out four verses of the song. Sing one verse for a whole week, the next verse the next week, etc. Ring bells for the refrain! My mom had little jingle bells that we held really quietly until the refrain—then we belted out “REJOICE! REJOICE!” and rang our bells for all we were worth. Of all the things my parents did to celebrate Advent, this is the one that sticks the most.” - Maia
7. Say a special prayer at dinner: “Use your Advent wreath as a centerpiece (assuming your kids won’t climb on the table and destroy it). Every night at dinner, instead of saying your usual prayer before meals, light the candle and say an Advent prayer. Simple!” - Loni
8. Create a stack of prayer cards: “A really simple tradition I’ve managed for the last couple of years is to get 24 small cards and write the name of a family/friend/country on each one. We fold them and add them to our Advent calendar and pray for their intentions each evening during bedtime prayers. It takes 15 minutes to prepare and you’re sorted for the whole season!” - Lizzie
What are your suggestions for simple ways to celebrate Advent?