The winter holiday season is upon us, and Christian homes are engaging in the various traditions to recall, through word and action, the meaning and values of Advent and Christmas. We at the Evangelium Institute offer some of our favorite traditions in case they may be of interest to you. We hope you will also share with us some of your favorite traditions. Before we begin, let us review the meaning of Advent and Christmas.
Advent has two themes: preparation for celebrating Christmas and preparation for the Messiah’s return. According to the universal catechism, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC 524). Despite secular calendars, Advent does not coincide with December 1st each year. Advent begins with a Sunday and there are four Sundays in Advent prior to the Solemnity of Christmas. For Catholics, most of December is not the Christmas season but the Advent season.
The Christmas season begins the night before Christmas (Christmas Eve) and continues to and includes the Sunday after Epiphany (the 3 Magi). Pope Pius XII explains, “With the coming of the birthday of the Redeemer, she [the Church] would bring us to the cave of Bethlehem and there teach that we must be born again and undergo a complete reformation; that will only happen when we are intimately and vitally united to the Word of God made man and participate in His divine nature, to which we have been elevated” (Mediator Dei 155).
Now let us look at some of the favorite traditions of the Evangelium Institute instructors.
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez
1) We celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day on December 6th.
2) Every morning in our house starts with reading out loud. During Advent, we have a book wrapped as a gift opened and then read aloud. The books are all Advent/Christmas themed children’s books.
3) We don’t decorate for Christmas or turn on our exterior lights until Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, in anticipation of the coming feast. However, throughout Advent we place electric candles in the windows to represent our anticipation of the Light of the World coming to scatter the darkness.
1) We usually go to Midnight Mass and spend the morning as a family. Our big dinner on Christmas evening welcomes local friends who have nowhere else to celebrate.
2) As much as possible, we try to treat the week after Christmas, the Octave, as though it is Christmas with little work, lots of family time, games, puzzles, food, and friends.
3) We leave our decorations up to the Presentation of the Lord, February 2nd.
Dr. Keith Jiron
1) We break out the Advent wreath, light it daily during Advent at supper time as we start preparing for Christmas. The kids love lighting the candles (especially when they were little) so we usually need to have refills of Advent candles. We also endeavor to pray a decade of the rosary when we light it, but this doesn’t always happen. :-)
2) On the Feast of St. Nicholas, we make sure the kids put shoes out so St. Nick can put a small gift or some candy in them.
3) One of our favorite traditions is to go pick out a real tree, usually on the first or second Sunday of Advent. Then, we hang up our stockings, we decorate the tree while listening to Christmas music, we order Chinese food (which is real treat for us), and then watch a Christmas movie.
4) We start watching Christmas movies during Advent, saving our favorites ones for when Christmas is nearer. Some of our favorites are: “The Grinch (2018),” Little House on the Prairie’s “Christmas at Plum Creek,” “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,” Veggie Tales “It’s a Meaningful Life,” and the all-time favorite for all of us is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
1) We make an extra effort to keep Christmas Eve prayerful. We pray a rosary, read a story or two, and then sing Christmas songs.
2) We go Mass on Christmas morning in an effort to take our focus off the presents and Santa and to focus on Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas.
3) We used to try to spread out gifts over the twelve days of Christmas, but this never quite worked for us. It’s a worthy effort, though, to remember that Christmas actually starts on Christmas day – it doesn’t end then.
4) We keep our Christmas tree up until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Deacon Peter Kennedy
1) The Feast of St. Nicholas is also my wife’s birthday and she chose the name Nicole for her Confirmation name. Being German, this is a big part of her family tradition and I have adopted it as part of my own. St. Nicholas brings a gift of Advent calendars and fruit, nuts, and of course chocolate coins, to our house each year, and (maybe a little something extra for mom). The original gift of gold St. Nick gave to two young girls was to allow them to enter into marriage. So, this is a particular day to remember the gift my wife is to me.
2) The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) has been a very important part of my personal spiritual life since college. Though as a family, we are often separated by work and school on this day, it is a day I pray especially for my family, and offer prayers for a plenary indulgence for my deceased family members.
3) The advent wreath is a part of our evening meal prayer during this season. We emphasize a bit longer prayer at mealtime and remembering what we are thankful for.
1) Christmas Eve is always a time of gathering with my wife’s immediate family... all 94 of them. Coming from a large German farm family, we gather for a soup supper with traditional homemade soups, bread, and of course dessert! As the evening winds down, Godparents give gifts to their Godchildren and Grandma reads a children’s story about the nativity to everyone, before we all attend midnight Mass at the Church where my wife and I were married.
2) Christmas morning is a time for stockings from Santa, brunch and then the long trip to see my family. My much smaller family (23) spend the next couple of days attending Mass together, exchanging gifts, and catching up as we all live in different states and usually only see each other on holidays. The giving of gifts is truly my mother’s love language and so gift giving is a big part of the celebration. The Christmas tree is decorated with an eclectic menagerie of ornaments, many of which were gifts from Godparents, grandparents, and other family members at Christmases past. The family heirlooms serve as a reminder of our need to pray for our lost loved ones and the hope to see them again.
Dr. Brandon Harvey
1) Our approach to Santa Claus is to emphasize the historical figure and saint in heaven that prays for us. Saint Nicholas’ feast is celebrated on December 6th. We read his story, recall why stockings and gift giving are associated with him, and then we exchange stockings in honor of Saint Nicholas.
o Veggie Tales has a Saint Nicholas themed movie. CLICK HERE
o Here is a Saint Nicholas prayer card for kids.
o Here is a Saint Nichoals book for kids.
2) We use the Jesse tree tradition and the daily reading of Scripture to be sure our kids hear the story of Salvation History annually. HERE is a link to the readings.
3) To imitate the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem and to prepare for heaven during this earthly journey, we go on an annual retreat as a family out of town.
1) Below our tree we place a baby Jesus in a manger statue (he is the greatest gift!). Each of us receives three gifts and so does baby Jesus! We offer him three Christmas songs that we sing as a family throughout our gift giving.
2) In many parts of the world, Christians have retained the giving of gifts on Epiphany later in the Christmas season. We make this a day of family fellowship and prayer. We open 2 family gifts: a new Eastern icon and a family game.
3) We watch lots of Christmas movies! (we annually debate whether The Lord of the Rings is a Christmas movie).
What are some of your family's favorite Advent and Christmas traditions? Please share in the comments!