A few weeks ago, I wrote about our family's advent philosophy
, but now that advent is actually upon us, I wanted to share a little more about our three favorite advent family traditions.
1. Little People Nativity
We have many nativity sets. We've got a big outdoor one, we've got a fancy mantel one, we've got a tiny tabletop one. And my mom is kind of obsessed with them. She's got dozens, from all over the world. I love them all, but my all time favorite is the Little People Nativity
that takes over our living room from December 1st through January 6th.
It's big. We've got the stable, plus all the add on sets, like the Wisemen
and the Shepherds and the Drummer Boy
. Plus we added King Herod's castle to the mix because you really can't act out the whole story without it (although it's a bit of a stretch to work the dragon in effectively).
I love it because it really makes the story of Jesus' birth come alive for my kids. I can watch them act it out over and over again talking to themselves and/or arguing details with each other. For our other sets, we don't put out the baby Jesus until Christmas Eve, but for the kids' set we let them have Jesus right away. The story isn't as fun without him.
All of our other nativity sets are decorations, but the Little People one is the one that really means something to our family. If you don't already have one in your home I can't recommend it enough.
We have had such good luck with our Lenten sacrifice beans
that we wanted something similar to help the kids focus their intentions during advent. So, we started doing straw for Baby Jesus.
I've since seen many other versions, but it's a pretty simple concept. When kids make sacrifices or exhibit especially good behavior, they get to put a piece of straw into Baby Jesus' manger. If they are good enough, then the Baby Jesus has a nice soft bed to lay in on Christmas Eve.
We have a really great little wooden manger my dad built for us, but a wooden crate or a doll cradle, or even a shoebox would work. We use cut up pieces of yarn, but real straw would work also. The first couple of years, we just used one of Betty's baby dolls, but now we have this Baby Jesus
During the day, I will reward kids for good behavior or listening right away or helping someone else by letting them put in a piece of straw. Then, at evening prayers, they can also award each other pieces of straw if someone has done something nice for them, and they can put in their own pieces if they can come up with specific personal sacrifices they have made.
Then, after we've finished all our decorating and preparations on Christmas Eve, the last thing we do before we go to bed is to put the Baby Jesus in his (hopefully) nice soft crib. We sing Silent Night and Away in a Manger and then the kids go to sleep.
Here's what we do:
I found the text here at Catholic Culture
, and printed it into booklets. The novena should rightly be celebrated from the 16th to the 24th, but since we wait until Christmas Eve to get our tree, we shift it one day and do the novena from the 15th to the 23rd. That also allows our friends who have joined us over the years to do their own family celebrations on Christmas Eve.
The coolest part of it for us has been inviting people we know (or sometimes don't know yet) from other countries or parts of the country to join us and share with us how Christmas is celebrated all over the world.
We've have had some VERY memorable visits, especially the priest from Africa who told the kids about the big Christmas Eve cattle slaughter, and how the little boys who were charged with bringing the raw meat home to their houses had to bring sticks with them to keep the wild dogs at bay. . . . Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
We do Santa Claus at our house, but I think that having an awareness of other cultural traditions has helped with keeping our focus on the Baby Jesus, which is the one thing every country's celebration shares.
Many of the families have been friends of ours already, but we also have just gone up to people at the parish who seem to have foreign accents and invited them. It's been a great way to meet other members of our parish.
It's not a requirement, but sometimes they bring us yummy international foods to try. Which brings me to the subject of treats. We don't eats Christmas treats during advent, in keeping with our attempt to maintain it as a season of waiting and preparation. But the Christmas Novena allows us to ease up the rules slowly. We'll usually have a small snack and a treat type drink like egg nog or hot chocolate or apple cider, and over the last couple of days we've even been known to have cookies.
The Novena itself really is beautiful, it incorporates ancient prayers like the O Antiphons, and beautiful timeless songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It really makes me feel connected to the timelessness of our Church.
We didn't feel like we could manage both the Jesse Tree and the Christmas Novena, so we just do the Novena. If you're not ready to start your Jesse Tree tonight, maybe the Christmas Novena would work for your family. Update: in the comments, Julia asked if I would include a link to the booklet I made of the prayers and readings for the Christmas Novena. So . . . here it is! If you are able to print double sided, it should print out as a booklet that you can fold in half and staple along the edge. If you don't have that capability, just print it out, cut all the pages in half, put them in the right order, and staple them together.
There are many other things I love about Advent, including reading books as a family (here are some of our favorites
), an advent wreath, and really celebrating the feasts that fall during advent. And the fact that we do things differently than "everyone" really just serves to reinforce our own family culture -- so I love that too.
Are you ready for Advent?
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Thanks to my friend Michaela at California to Korea (and back again) for hosting the Three Reasons I Love Advent linkup!