In the Velasquez family, we have learned that the more fully we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus, the holier our Christmas celebration becomes. Advent helps push back the creeping commercialism of Christmas. Make this the year that Christ, the true gift of Christmas, is at the center of his birthday celebration by adopting one or a few of my family’s cherished Advent customs.
1. Shop early online, wrap the gifts, and forget about them. Consider doing a Kris Kringle (Secret Santa) exchange at the office, at school, or with friends to cut down on spending. Collect possible gifts at yard sales during the year, or save children’s art projects for family members.
2. Take a family photo and use a religious Christmas frame for your card this year. You can find them online at TrueChristmasCards.com
3. Make a Jesse Tree. On a bare branch, hang a different ornament (symbolizing the ancestors of Jesus in the Old Testament, such as Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David) each day of December, and then read a short Scripture reading.
At NCRegister.com click “Resources” to find helpful material.
4. Have an Advent wreath, the same as we have in church, with four candles: three purple and one pink (for the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete, which means “Rejoice”, Sunday, since Christ is nearly born). Sing an Advent hymn like “O Come, Divine Messiah” or “People Look East” each night as you light the wreath.
5. Keep an Advent calendar. Buy a religious paper calendar, or consider a fabric pocket calendar if you have young children, so they can place the items in the pockets for each day by themselves.
6. Fill Baby Jesus’ manger with straw. Ask the children to tell you about their good deeds, and let them put a straw for each one in a small manger at their bedsides. The goal: a comfortable bed for the Baby Jesus by Christmas.
7. Fast. Advent has always been a time of fasting. Although a bit less severe than Lent, it’s still a time to serve simpler meals, give up sweets, and to enter into a spirit of penance and recollection.
8. Visit the elderly in your family or neighborhood. Ask them about their Christmas memories and traditions on tape, and make a treasured keepsake for their families and yours. Bring a package of homemade Christmas cookies.
9. Celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day on Dec. 6 by filling your children’s shoes with chocolate gold coins, reading a short biography of St. Nicholas, and watching the CCC of America cartoon movie Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.
10. Teach your children how to pray a novena for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and say the Rosary after attending Mass on Our Lady’s feast day. Wear something blue. Serve a special dessert when you get home.
11. Contribute to the Christmas of the poor. Sponsor a family in the parish; shop a catalogue of gifts for the poor in the missions; save change from fasting for the poor box. One of our family customs is to collect a box of unwanted toys to donate to our church thrift shop.
12. Attend a parish celebration of the solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In our parish, the entire congregation celebrates after Mass with a Mexican fiesta. Your family can have its own fiesta.
13. Wait to decorate the outside of your home with lights until the feast of St. Lucy on Dec. 13. Traditionally, girls dress in white robes and wear Christmas wreaths with candles on their heads and wake the family with coffee that day. Include the Irish custom of placing candles in your windows to welcome the Holy Family.
14. Teach your children to sing a new Christmas carol every week and have them practice the songs on their instruments. Give a concert to your Christmas dinner guests.
15. Buy a CD of sacred Christmas music in Latin to listen to as you bake, wrap and decorate. It will help to keep your minds focused on the Nativity.
16. Make your Nativity set the center of your home’s decorations. Consider buying an unbreakable collectable set and add a new statue each year. Let the kids play with the figures.
17. Watch DVDs of The Little Drummer Boy, Small One, or The Fourth Wise Man.
18. Put a “Keep Christ in Christmas” magnet on your car.
19. Go to a local shrine to visit the outdoor manger scene, preferably at night. Serenade the Holy Family with Christmas carols. We like to do this on the Epiphany, when the Wise Men have joined the Nativity scene.
20. Go Christmas caroling with other families to your neighbors’ homes; have hot chocolate when you get back home. Sing carols at a nursing home.
21. Participate in a celebration of “Las Posadas.” This is a nine-day novena of preparation for Christmas; a statue of Baby Jesus in the manger is passed from home to home, beginning Dec. 15. The family whose home has the statue brings it to the next family on the list, with two children dressed in simple costumes as Mary and St. Joseph, asking for shelter in the posada (home).
22. Buy an oplatek, a blessed (not consecrated) white wheat wafer stamped with the Nativity to share with your family on Christmas Eve, in Polish tradition. At dinner, the oplatek is broken and shared with the family, along with special prayers.
23. Make a traditional Italian 12-fish Christmas Eve dinner — and invite a lonely family member who remembers this custom to share memories about it with the children. The 12 fish represent the Twelve Apostles.
24. Attend midnight Mass as a family, all dressed up in your Christmas clothes. Make a special visit to the manger to wish Baby Jesus a “Happy Birthday.”
25. Read the Gospel of St. Luke’s Nativity story as you place Baby Jesus in the manger after Mass, and thank him for coming to your family this Christmas.
Read more by Leticia Velasquez at Cause-of-our-joy.blogspot.com.