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Our second daughter is eight. Eight is old. (At least, at our house it is.) And, eight? Eight is great!

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It means someone that you can send to the craft cupboard to “upgrade” the Jesse Tree ornaments, mostly by themselves and unsupervised. Ok, maybe a bit supervised.

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It means being able to reach the Jesse Tree above the piano without help.

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It means being able to start muddling through the missal during Sunday Mass. To muddle through seems to be defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary as “to achieve a degree of success without much planning or effort.” Tell me about it. I’m finding that doing a quick run through the missal before Mass greatly increases the chances of Missal Success and decreases the Great Sadness Caused by Missal Failure and Confusion. But maybe this is just my daughter.

It means being able to follow along with the hymns using the hymnals. Even if it takes almost the entire song in order to find the number in the book.

It still means needing to be reminded to be reverent by kneeling up or standing up straight at Mass, to listen and not get distracted, but it seems to mean not needing to be shushed as much. And she doesn’t throw down the hymnal, run down the aisle or need to be taken to the foyer. Praise. The. Lord.

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It means a more advanced version of the Faith and Life book that her little siblings are using. This yellow book is for kids in grade three. Smaller type, more detail, wonderful artwork.

It means a small session with Mama or Daddy after bedtime prayers to work through a simple examination of conscience before going to sleep. I was kind of hoping this would work itself out without any supervision – along the lines of “Ok. Don’t forget to examine your conscience before going to sleep.” But it worked just as well as “Ok. Don’t forget to brush your teeth before going to sleep.” They seemed to need a bit more hand holding and instruction before they could a) do it themselves when prompted, and b) develop the habit and remember to do it without prompting.

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It also means that they’re not likely to rough-house beside the ridiculously breakable Advent Wreath Situation and break the candleholders. No, that would be the six-year old. In cahoots with the five-year old.


Everyone has always told me to cherish these moments when the kids are little because it goes fast. And boy am I ever finding that it does. It goes very fast.


Some of the most beautiful hymns are Advent hymns, I think. This is one of my favourites. The first part is very simple and works as a nice bedtime prayer with little kids during the season of Advent (or when you’re lighting Advent wreath candles).

1. O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show Your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

2. O come, desired of nations,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Will break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

3. You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will Your cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
We shall Your Godhead see.

Just a quick note to say: Hallmark Cards seems to carry Advent candle sets for $7.95. Each of these three stores seem to have a few boxes left.

250 The East Mall, Unit #123
Cloverdale Mall
Etobicoke, ON M9B 3Y8
(416) 239-0272

Hallmark 5244
25 The West Mall, Unit #1153
Sherway Gardens
Etobicoke, ON M9C 1B8
(416) 626-5584

270 The Kingway, Unit #54
Humbertown Shopping Centre
Etobicoke, ON M9A 3T7
(416) 231-3591

We tried Michael’s, dollar stores, various party stores, convenience stores, but no one seemed to have all the key descriptors (some had purple, but no pink; some had purple and pink, but only small ones, or only scented ones, or only in large decorative jars; etc.) But wreaths, real or otherwise, and candleholders, seem to be available everywhere.

Do you know of another source of Advent candles in our neighbourhood?

Serpent and Forbidden Fruit, from TheBashfulDaisy

I found TheBashfulDaisy, another seller on Etsy, who is selling these cute Jesse Tree ornaments made out of clay.

On her description of the ornaments, she adds a few words about the Jesse Tree: “Today, the Jesse Tree has found renewed popularity. With an ornament and Scripture reading for each day of December, it vividly highlights God’s hand throughout the Old Testament as He made way for the coming Messiah.”

The story of Adam and Eve is so powerful that even the littlest of my children will start firmly and loudly and passionately warning Eve about the serpent’s evil intentions. It doesn’t ever work, and Eve and Adam ultimately end up disobeying their Creator. It doesn’t end there (thankfully) and God promises a Saviour and Redeemer, who “makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam.” [from the Catechism. Read that bit when you have a moment. It’s cool.]


Check out this Fra Angelico painting: with Adam and Eve on the left, sadly leaving the Garden of Eden, and the Angel Gabriel and Our Lady on the right (bonus points if you find the Holy Spirit), right in the middle of the line described in the Angelus, The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. And between these two events are all the people, famous and featured on the Jesse Tree or otherwise, waiting waiting waiting for God’s promised Messiah.

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.
(the Advent Wreath prayer for the first week)

The season of Advent starts on Sunday, November 30. Hanging each of these ornaments (or even just thinking about hanging these ornaments) is helping me revisit Bible stories that I take for granted and discover layers of meaning that they have for me. It’s also a chance my husband and I have to share them with my children, during a season that’s perfect for that very thing: tracing through the great stories of the Bible in anticipation of Jesus’ birth.

Super duper good news: it’s not even Advent yet! This little-known often-overlooked liturgical season which helps us prepare for Christmas only starts on November 30 and continues until December 24, the day before Christmas. So, for the perennially-late and forever-procrastinating sorts like me, we’ve got TIME. I usually get hit by the reality of the Advent a few days before it starts, if I’m lucky. My hint is usually that the rest of the world gets into full Christmas mode and I think Ha! The radio stations are playing Christmas music and the malls are shiny and decorated… it must be… Advent! But since the malls and the radio stations are getting started earlier and earlier, it means that I get a bit more time.

Time to do what?

Well, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ. Advent is the period of waiting and preparing that happens beforehand. Sometimes called “little Lent,” it is a time that involves increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

For us, the prayer part of Advent has involved three very old yet simple traditions: lighting candles of an Advent wreath each night at dinner along with a little prayer, and hanging an ornament on a Jesse tree (usually at night before bedtime) along with a little Bible story, and setting out the Nativity scene (without Jesus, because… he’s not there yet.).

Basically, I need to buy/make a wreath and four candles, and find the Jesse tree ornaments and the nativity scene somewhere in storage. Seems so simple…

Advent wreath. Image by Andrea Schaufler.
This is what we’re going for.

This is usually what happens. No wreath. Candles don’t quite stay in candleholders. Fatter candles?

E for effort, I say. Also, I’ll need to hunt down the card that has the Advent prayers for when we’re lighting the candles of the wreath.

The ornaments of a Jesse Tree represent the descendants of Jesus form the Old and New Testaments. It’s such a great way to get familiar with the Bible characters and their stories.

We made these simple Internet-downloaded and kid-coloured ornaments a few years ago. I’m sure these are somewhere. Probably near the Nativity scenes. Behind the sleeping bags? Beside bathing suits and flip-flops?

OR you could make your own felt ornaments.

Or buy fancy ones from Etsy. At all price points. (from InspiredTraditions on Etsy)

Some kind people have put together the accompanying Bible readings to go along with each ornament here or here. Or sometimes we just use the Bible story books that we already have around. Or sometimes we just say, “This is Noah’s ark… ok, time for bed.”

It’s not yet Advent! There’s time!

Last Sunday, the first reading was from Isaiah 11: 1-10. Inspired by this beautiful passage, we present our humble photographic series entitled Isaiah 11, brought to you by the plastic animal suitcase.

The plastic animal suitcase.

ISAIAH 11: 1 – 10
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

We couldn’t find a wolf, but here is a sabre-toothed lion with a lamb. Equally impressive.

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

Leopard: check. Kid: nope. But apparently, both goats and llamas are even-toed ungulates.

and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

At the time of publication, we weren’t sure what a fatling was. The octopus was the fattest animal we had.

and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Lions and cows and bears, oh my!

8 The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.

Hard to believe, but there are no snakes or any snake-like animals in the plastic animal suitcase. This is as close as we could get going further afoot to the puzzles drawer.

9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.

Sometimes, it feels as if the world is saying Hurry up! Advent says, slow down. Although it seems as if the world is in full Deck the Halls mode, Advent says, let’s keep it simple. Although it takes some doing to guide the mood away from frazzled and stressed to calm and quiet, it really is worth it. Advent involves low-key and simple traditions that serve to gently turn our heads towards an empty manger, our hearts towards Someone who is coming again.

I am often tempted to turn Advent (and Christmas, for that matter) into a big Pinterest-worthy extravaganza. It usually doesn’t work. I suspect that the Holy Spirit is reminding me that, at its heart, Advent is about making room in my heart for Jesus who is coming. Making room implies less, not more. Less stuff, less things on the schedule. Less means that I might hear voice calling out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!’

The Advent Wreath

[left] November 30; [right] December 1; Sigh. Candles don’t usually fit into candle-holders, right? For now, the only one that needs to be standing is the first week.

The candles of an Advent Wreath are a beautiful and quiet way to mark the days leading up to Christmas. Last year, we made a super cool Advent wreath made out of everyone’s hands traced and cut out of green paper. I had great hopes for making a similar one this year, every since the lady at the local religious goods store upsold me some Advent candles a full TWO WEEKS before the season started. I had so much time! Well, here we are, a week into Advent, and I believe we’ve cut out a grand total of five hands. Not quite enough to make a wreath. We may give up and try to purchase one. Or not. The kids are so awe-inspired by lit candles that they may not remember/notice that there was actually no wreath beneath them in 2013.

Given the baby crawling around enthusiastically foiling our craft attempts, this was a big accomplishment.

Sometimes, the prayer that we use when we light the Advent candle before saying Grace is not handy (read: lost) and we’ve adopted a new tradition of singing the refrain of O Come Divine Messiah. Short and sweet.

The Jesse Tree

They’re not lost!

Because our nine-year old is a gift, she’s taken it upon herself to keep this tradition going, despite her parents’ lack of involvement. (God gave her to us first because he thought we would need someone that came pre-parented as our first born.) On the first Sunday of Advent, we all read the Creation Story and ceremoniously placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil on the lowest branch of the Jesse Tree. Our evenings since then have been more than a little hectic and I noticed today that she’s put up the the next few symbols (Noah = the ark, Abraham = a tent, Isaac = a ram, Jacob = a ladder). The ladder symbol is on the tree but do the little kids remember who Jacob is? Probably not. Hopefully we will get a moment to address that at some point, before they leave home.

The Nativity Sets

The pretty one out of reach

The Toddler-friendly one on the living room floor

Both the ceramic Baby Jesus and the plastic one are hidden away. I hope I remember where I placed them in time for Christmas.

Here’s wishing you a calm and quiet Advent. Or even small bits of calm and quiet in Advent, whatever you can scrounge together during what can be an intensely busy time. We do what we can. God really does give us what we need when we need it and he has our families, yours and mine, in his loving heart.

I wish I could head over to the mall (since it’s too late for online delivery now, for those of us procrastinators) and buy these things for my family. Actually, they’re mostly for me, but I’m sure my family would really appreciate them.

  • A replacement heart for myself, of the Meek and Humble design
  • An Even More Magic Eraser than the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, the faster-than-the-speed-of-sound kind that erases harsh words in mid-air, before ear arrival
  • Or even better, a Minty Fresh Harsh Words Mouthwash (safe for daily use) that obliterates harsh words and reformats harsh tones even before they leave my mouth
  • Some sort of a Generosity Booster Energy Drink, preferrably Ice Wine or coffee-flavoured, that can leave me cheerfully able to play tic-tac-toe, lego, war, read books, and otherwise able to sit at rug-level for hours on end
  • Patience pills
  • Bulk-sized box of Smiles
  • A large, gold statement necklace and burgundy tights (Actually these can be wrapped. I’m just adding these just in case.)

Look at him. That man can do anything.

Actually. Here’s the man that can do anything. (Not Robert Powell, silly. Jesus.)

Sometimes we find ourselves in darkness. For whatever reason, whether it be sickness, ongoing personal tragedy, the mounting stress of holiday “responsibilities,” or maybe just plain old loneliness, this can be a difficult time of year. Sometimes the three purple candles and one pink candle just isn’t enough to dispel it. Or, if you’re house is already resplendant with shiny Christmas decorations and enough lights to make Toronto Hydro smile, or if you’re out and about in the brightly lit malls, all the lights might serve to create a stark, stark contrast with your personal difficulties.

If you’ve ever tried to comfort a hysterical and crying toddler, you might have said something like, “It’s ok. I’m here. It’s all good. I’m here. Nothing to be afraid of.” In the child’s misery, it takes them a while to feel your arms rocking them back and forth. It takes them a while to hear your voice. For what seems like forever, they are blind to you. But after a while, they do notice your presence. Sobs turn to sniffles, sniffles to steadier breathing. Their little body might relax against your arms and the darkness is dispelled.

For me, an old paperback entitled The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston served as that motherly hug during the darker parts of this Advent season. I found myself reading about this fascinating miracle a few days after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son,” Our Lady says at some point to Juan Diego. “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Our Lady, even tired and pregnant with Jesus, has room on her lap for me. (I can attest that there is room on the lap of even the most pregnant person for a sad, little person – maybe even two.) She has room on her lap for all who struggle with darkness. Even when we forget, blinded by our grief, she knows and will never tire of reminding us that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, who is the Light.

Sometimes it takes me a while to notice her presence. But it’s always better when I do. Better and a little bit brighter.

Find the Fisher Price Nativity set. Check. Find Baby Jesus. Check. Hide Baby Jesus. Check.

Clear the top of the piano. Check. Dust the top of the piano. Check. Extract St. Joseph and Mama Mary and donkey from large creche box. Check. Fiddle with St. Joseph’s staff for too long and then give up. Check. Contemplate super glueing it to his hand…

Transfer dried arrangement in a vase from decoration duty to Jesse Tree duty. Check. Consider watering the limp plants…

Compare our humble colouring page download Jesse Tree ornaments to the fabulous ones that Susan from the parish office lent us. Check. Sigh. Internally celebrate the fact that we didn’t lose them since last Advent. Check.

Totally copy a great Advent wreath craft idea from a facebook friend. Check. Consider our collective level of table manners and consider laminating the whole thing. Check. Find candles. Nope. No luck. Schedule Advent-candle-hunting errand. Check.

Recycle all toy store flyers. Check, check and check.

Our first Jesse Tree! and our not-so-wreathy Advent Wreath…

Like I mentioned in a previous post, we’ve never tried to have a Jesse Tree during Advent. But since we got our act together, our family is enjoying this new tradition. We downloaded a set of colouring pages and the kids set out to colouring, cutting, affixing string. This worked out really well since this is what they enjoy doing left to their own devices anyway. (If your kids or you are not the colouring, cutting, affixing string-types, the Internet offers a wealth of ready-made ornaments in exchange for your hard-earned money.) Each evening we read about a person from the Old Testament and hang up their ornament. Having a children’s Bible or Bible stories is handy.

But without further ado, ten reasons why I’m now a Jesse Tree fan:

10. Now the kids* know who Isaac was. Actually, they were more interested in what a ram is. Curly horns? Fascinating!
9. Now the kids know who Sarah was, and that she had a baby named Isaac, who was Jacob’s daddy, who was Joseph’s daddy… Joseph, the guy with the technicolour dream coat?? Yes! He’s the one! It’s all coming together…
8. Now the kids know who Abraham was, and that God promised him that he would be the father of a great nation that numbered like the stars!
7. Now the kids know who Noah was. Well, I guess everyone knew about Noah from before. But now they really know about Noah.
6. Now the kids know who Adam and Eve were.
5. Now the kids know what the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was. (Try to say that three times fast.)
4. Now the kids know the story of Creation.
3. We got some exercise hunting around the neighbourhood for dead branches.
2. It takes the attention away from our not so “wreathy” Advent Wreath (Candles? Yes. Wreath? Not so much. It’s a Minimalist Advent Wreath, kids! Mama, what does “Minimalist” mean?)
1. And the number one reason why I’m a Jesse Tree fan: I don’t hear “Why don’t we have a Christmas tree yet?” so much. We do have a tree! A Jesse tree!

(* By “the kids” I mean everyone three and up. Ok, maybe five and up.)

So there you have it, folks: ten good reasons to try this Jesse Tree thing! And more and more reasons every day! Really, when else will you have an excuse to work in Abraham into daily normal conversation? Although we’re trying our best to keep up with the daily ornaments, I’m sure life will throw some curve balls and we might miss a few (or a lot), but so far the experience has been highly positive and this tradition seems like a keeper.

Advent Traditions Sidetracked
As I am writing this, there is no Advent wreath on the table, the Nativity set has yet to be found and the wise men are still in their box waiting for their journey to begin. Our family was visited a couple weeks ago by a stomach bug, and it is slowly working its way through, one child at a time. We’re on sick little person #3, and I’m hoping that my young son is really an X-man mutant, impervious to all disease. Since the stomach bug was having so much fun at our house, he also invited a mild cold, also working its way through, one child at a time. Needless to say, we are on Just Getting By With The Basics mode.

Jesse Tree Update
The non-sick kids and I have been scouring the neighbourhood for large branches that have been blown down from the now-bare trees. We’ve collected a respectable amount and put them all in our largest vase. We’ve decided to go with the simple colouring page download version of the Jesse Tree ornaments, and the seven-year old has decided she will colour it all herself. I don’t mind. None of the other children seem to mind too much, either. I suspect the two-year old is not quite aware of our grand project. Since he is usually not allowed to bring in his branches and sticks, he has pointed to our prominently displayed collection of dead branches and asked “Outside?”

Waiting, waiting, waiting
Something about being sick and being surrounded by sick people forces one to stop and wait. Wait to get better, wait to do the things we’d like to do, the things we think we ought to do. I fight the temptation to worry that we haven’t gotten started with Advent. I try to remember that, as with most things, Advent is less about the stuff, more about the people. More about the people who are waiting for their God.

St. Clement’s has scheduled extra times for the Sacrament of Reconciliation! I believe they are now available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after the 7pm Mass, as well as the regular Saturday times. Parishioners are also invited to an evening of Advent Confessions on Monday, December 5th at 7pm. Our young people will celebrate their First Confession on the same evening. Several priests will be present.

“I am certain that even if I had on my conscience every imaginable crime, I should lose nothing of my confidence; rather I would hurry, with a heart broken with sorrow, to throw myself into the Arms of my Jesus.”
– St. Therese of Lisieux

(Neat little reflection, isn’t it? You too can start your day with a thought from St. Therese here.)

St. Clement Church all in red, during the recent Volunteer Appreciation Night. Photo by Azure Blue Photography

It’s already Wednesday! Here’s my pre-Advent to-do list:

1. Pray

This helps me remember that preparing for the birthday of our Lord does not consist (primarily) of running around like a chicken with its head cut off. A grumpy chicken with its head cut off. I need to fight for those minutes of peace and quiet when I can sit with just God, humbly asking Him to help keep me focused On What Matters. He can do greater things in those minutes than I can.

2. Find/buy an Advent wreath, three purple candles and pink candle

Having an Advent wreath is a simple yet powerful tradition that we find really creates a mood of peaceful expectation (as different from, say, a trip to Toys’R’Us). It’s a daily chance at a time when we’re all together (usually dinner works well) to stop and remember Who we’re waiting for. And something about candles mesmerizes little kids. I’ve posted the short prayer that we use as we light the appropriate candle(s) each night and Father Zimmer has shared a blessing for the wreath:

Family Blessing of an Advent Wreath
God of hope and love, we praise you for sending Jesus your Son,
to save us from our sins and to be light in our darkness.
Bless us as we gather in his name,
and bless this wreath as a sign of your unending love
and of Jesus’ presence among us.
Keep us watchful in prayer as we await his return in glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!

3. Find the toy Nativity set and hide baby Jesus

Here’s our great toy one. I can’t wait until our two-year old gets introduced to it this year (I’m sure he doesn’t remember last year). We’ll see how well it can withstand the current set of little hands. Baby Jesus makes His appearance on Christmas morning.

4. Situate the wise men and the three kings somewhere far away in the house (ready for their “journey”)

5. Read about Jesse trees

Jesse Tree stained glass window, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Having a Jesse tree is an Advent tradition that we’ve never tried before. As far as I can tell, it involves a simple tree which slowly gets decorated with ornaments that represent characters or stories from the Old Testament. Here’s a nifty chart with all the ornaments descriptions.

“Making a Jesse Tree helps us understand that many people lived before Jesus was born. They waited for him, just as we wait for his birthday now. These people were good, holy people and have interesting stories! We will read a story and think of a symbol to make, something that will remind of the person. Then we will hang that symbol on the tree, and read another story.”
Our Sunday Visitor, About the Jesse Tree

The ornaments can be as simple as cut-out colour pages or as fancy as these ones. You could also get inspired by the beautiful stained glass one from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (see above). I need to read more about it and see how we will make this tradition our own. I will keep you posted.

What are some of your family’s Advent traditions?

Usually one of the last Catholics to clue into things, I’m excited to announce that I know that there is a new translation of the Mass coming starting Advent 2011… and it’s not Advent 2011 yet!

Father Zimmer has been giving us resources through the bulletin and website. One resource is the Archdiocese of Toronto website, filled with links that might help one prepare for the implementation of the new translation. In particular, you’ll find the whole Order of the Mass, and a nifty chart with just the people’s parts, comparing the old translation with the new.

Of my four kids, I have one that is already reading. This means that, new Missal in hand, she can join us in the adventure of learning the new responses, maybe even some of the new music. I imagine that the change will be less dramatic for her (and subsequently, all her little siblings) than it will be for us old folks who have gotten used to the old translation. I think it will mean that I won’t take the words for granted as much as I help her navigate the Mass. They’ll be new to me, too. We’ll be learning them together.

New Greeting
The Priest greets the people, saying, The Lord be with you.
We reply, And with your spirit. (instead of And also with you.)

Four candles get lit on the Advent wreath these days, which means that there are enough candles for each child to get to blow out one at the end of dinner. Of course, there are still discussions as to who gets to blow out the pink one, but this serves perfectly as a lesson in taking turns. As Christmas nears, and I am slowly buried in Things That Need Doing Before Christmas, it takes all my strength of will to keep important things in focus, to remember to first pray, then act. I have a tendency to act, act, act, act, mess up or get in trouble, then pray. Instead, I’m trying to pray, act, pray, act, pray, act. I find that when I sandwich the tasks of my day in prayer, I am gentler with my family, among other things. I’m not talking of rosaries here, more like, Hi, Jesus. I’m about to put dinner on the table. Help me not yell at the first child who comes in and whines about being hungry. Not that there’s anything wrong with rosaries, but that’s a different blog post.

I’m a big fan of the Fisher Price Nativity Set. Not only is it cute, it can be knawed, drooled on and hurled against the wall (not that we promote these activities) and it’s invincible! It’s only out during Advent and Easter, making its sudden appearance during the first week of Advent pretty exciting. Baby Jesus stays in the box and arrives onto the scene on Christmas morning. At our home, the current baby has historically played the role of Herod, the giant, bad king who rampages through Bethlehem, wreaking havoc in his wake, making it impossible to arrange the figurines just like they are in the picture on the box.

The nicer ceramic set is well out of reach. The wise men mysteriously move from shelf to shelf, slowly making their way closer and closer to Mary and Joseph, who are waiting for the arrival of Jesus on Christmas day.

Through no fault of their own, people who love my children are asking them what they would like for Christmas. It is the conversation topic du jour. What would you like for Christmas? What are you asking Santa for? Did you write your Santa letter yet? Not that there is anything wrong with relatives and friends expressing their love through gifts (and conducting some research to ensure maximum impact upon opening). But the constant focus on presents makes it pretty tough for little kids to understand the true depth and beauty of this time of year.

Stopping the Gimme-gimme-gimme train takes more than just forbidding children from obsessing about presents during the Christmas season.

Mama: You are forbidden from obsessing about presents during the Christmas season. Now put away that Toys R U catalog.
Child: Ok, mama.

Nope. It just doesn’t seem to work that way. But my husband and I have hatched a plot with the hope to instill a deeper understanding of the season of Advent and Christmas in our children. Here are the details:

Step 1: Minimize Exposure to Advertising
Some key things need to be in place for our plan to work: hardly any TV, no trips to the mall, no catalogs lying around. This way, they aren’t bombarded by advertising. Unless this is the case, Step 2 and 3 may not stand a chance.

Step 2: Back to Basics
When we talk about Christmas, we usually refer to it by its original and child-friendly name: Jesus’ birthday. I find that our children are Birthday Experts. They know what birthdays are all about. Birthdays involves presents and cards for the birthday boy or girl. Talking about Christmas this way sets up Step 3.

Step 3: The Gift
What are we going to get Jesus for His birthday? This is the big family project. Each day (or when we remember), at the end of the day, the kids try and remember the good things they’ve done for other people, or the sacrifices they’ve made. We ask the kids to write (or draw) their efforts. We’re going to try and collect them all together and address them to Jesus for his birthday. We’re hoping that this family project displaces some of the energy that we spend trying to figure out what presents we’d like to receive. Hopefully, it focuses our family towards what Jesus would want for his birthday. It creates a daily activity (or conversation, at least) that has (so far) captured their imagination and holds their attention. I’ll keep you posted.

Many families I know do something similar, or have other beautiful Advent traditions that help get us ready for Jesus. I would love to hear what your family does.

Advent wreath. Image by Andrea Schaufler.

Sunday, November 28 is the first Sunday of Advent. That means that it’s time to go shopping for purple and pink candles! Or, in our case, time to go into storage to find the wreath and our those candles (on or hopefully before the first Sunday of Advent). Not being the crafty types, my husband and I have never figured out how to have those lovely, tall tapered candles – they keep falling down. Kids, fire, falling-down-candles… really not a good combination. We’ve opted for fat, short candles (like the ones shown in the photo). Granted, you don’t get that dramatic height difference between the first Sunday candle and the fourth Sunday candle, but as always, safety first.

At dinner time, before saying Grace before meals, we light the appropriate candle and ask the kids to repeat the prayer after us. Our oldest is currently learning how to read, so we might experiment with her reading the prayer. Here is the one we use.

First Week
O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.

Second Week
O King of all nations, Jesus Christ,
only joy of every heart,
come and save your people.

Third Week
O Key of David, Jesus Christ,
the gates of heaven open at your command,
come and show us the way to salvation.

Fourth Week
O Wisdom, holy Word of God, Jesus Christ,
all things are in your hands,
come and show us the way to salvation.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!