Modest expectations may be the key to success. In last month’s post I challenged myself to post more images of faith at home (with the hashtag #growchristians naturally). Early in November when I realized I had only posted one, it dawned on me: one is better than zero!
I resolved then that if I only posted one image of faith at home every week, I would consider my challenge met. So call it a success: I’ve posted three, and there’s a week in the month left to go.
Meanwhile, it’s again time to think about the month to come: December. For some of us, it is the most joyful month of the year; for others, it is tinged with grief and angst. But for all of us, it is Advent.
Liturgical Time in December
Depending on your church home, Advent may be observed as a season of penitence or a season of anticipation. The colors may be purple and pink or blue. But the same readings are appointed for all of us, and the same sense of wonder that God came to earth in Jesus Christ for the sake of all Creation.
The month of December doesn’t contain many major or even lesser feast days until the very end. Then there’s a bunch right in a row. It’s as if those days without names to remember give us some breathing room to remember there is one Name above all names.
Here’s a printable PDF to show you through the month on a single page. The major feasts are in red:
Of the lesser feasts, in your life with children I encourage you to make a big deal out of the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. It’s helpful for kids to have some historical understanding of the development of the Santa Claus story. There’s no better resource for this than the website of the St. Nicholas Center. We posted some insights from that site last year, and plan to do so again as the day comes closer.
Maybe because I wasn’t raised in the church, I’ve spent half my life trying to figure out how to observe Advent and Christmas. I knew that I couldn’t simply replicate the customs of my childhood, because they had no religious meaning. On the other hand, the wider culture didn’t give me much to work with. It seemed like Christmas began on November 1st, ended on December 25th, and was focused on singing carols and buying gifts. I knew that didn’t align with the church year! It took stumbling across Catholic mom blogs when my kids were young to figure out some simple traditions (and I do mean simple) for our family.
We observe Advent with a lit wreath at the dinner table every year. We sing a simple song as we light the wreath; I learned it from Elizabeth Foss’s family. The link isn’t up anymore at her site, but I memorized it with my kids when they were small, and we still sing it every year. (The name Plainsong Farm may have something to do with my fondness for people singing together.) Feel free to use it in your family. Here’s how it goes:
After you light the first candle for peace, you light the second for hope, the third for joy, and the fourth for love. The song builds so that by the last week of Advent, we’re singing all four verses with four candles lit. This home tradition mirrors the Advent candlelighting in worship, and helps our family focus on the fact that “He comes, He comes!” is the reason we’re celebrating.
We put out our nativity set during Advent with Mary and Joseph far away from the manger and move them slowly closer, day by day, as Christmas becomes near. Then, on Christmas Day, the three wise men appear at some distance and move closer to the manger each day until Epiphany when they finally arrive.
These small things build a sense of anticipation. They help me with my sense of timing, hope and reverence, and I’m forty-six years old. I’m pretty sure they help my children too.
Leila Lawler has a lovely family tradition of building a straw bed for Jesus in the manger. She writes,
Have you ever heard of the custom of placing straws in the manger to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus with your good deeds?
Children love this custom. But for a long time I was deterred from doing it for a very silly reason:
I didn’t know what straw was. Go ahead and laugh!
She finally figured out that dried grass from the front lawn would work, and her children (and now, I presume, grandchildren) have been building beds for the infant Christ ever since. Read her whole post: she offers a practical and reverent approach to this season.
There are also many resources for Advent on the St. Nicholas Center site.
Last year Grow Christians offered a series for the full twelve days of Christmas; every day had a song, an activity to do at home, and a reflection on the meaning of the season. All those posts are right here; let them offer you ideas for observing the full twelve days of this great feast.
So often we party during Advent, and then we’re all finished celebrating by the time Christmas arrives! The challenge is to wait during Advent, and celebrate the actual, full feast of Christmas. Mary Lee Wile has more ideas for how to do this in a blended family separated by geographic distance.
Celebrating the twelve days is counter-cultural, but so is authentic Christian faith.
To honor the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle
Isn’t it interesting that just a few days before the celebration of the Incarnation, we honor this saint famous for needing physical evidence of the resurrection? St. Thomas is sometimes called the Twin; Catholic Cuisine offers the idea to make a pasta dish with gemelli, a pasta shape that looks like two tubes twisted around one another.
To honor the feast of St. Stephen
This feast is perhaps best known to contemporary culture by appearing in the Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslaus,” – which tells the story of a king who made it a priority to care for a hungry poor man by sharing a feast. Today would be a good day to sing the song and care for the poor – perhaps not by bringing wine and meat as Wenceslaus did, but by providing fresh fruits and vegetables, which are hardest for pantries to obtain.
To honor the feast of St. John
This third day of Christmas honors the evangelist whose written words communicate Christ to us. The symbol for St. John is an eagle; you could search for “edible eagles” for a quick dessert, or simply take out the Bible and read the beginning of John’s gospel aloud during the day.
To honor the feast of the Holy Innocents
This is a hard feast to observe, as it observes the tragedy of life lost as Herod sought to extinguish any potential adversary through his power. And yet it is yet the fourth day of Christmas, and the innocents are with God. In all honesty, I’m not sure what to do here. Last year Allison Liles suggested considering this a day to take one small action for common sense gun laws. Given that the widespread availability of all types of guns today leads to the death of innocents, that makes sense to me.
This month on Grow Christians
Early next week we’ll offer a jam-packed giveaway with items from Forward Movement, Church Publishing, Thomas Cook, and more. We’re asking you to fill out a reader survey to participate. The giveaway will run for two full weeks to ensure everyone has time to enter.
I’m going to keep aiming for those once-a-week #growchristians posts on Instagram. You’re always welcome to join in!
How does your family observe Advent? Are your traditions easy, complex, changing?