Sunday, December 1, 2013

How We Keep Christ in Christmas

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We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus our Advent and Christmas on JESUS!

Advent is one of the least appreciated and least celebrated seasons of the Church's year, being largely squashed by the ever growing commercial Christmas shopping season. We try to give our kids a liturgical sense of time, lex orandi, lex credendi, which is toughest to do this time of year. 

Here are a few things we do to keep Advent from being replaced by Christmas (and to make sure we are still happily celebrating Christmas until Epiphany, when most people are burned out by Dec 26).

A lot of our Advent traditions center around dinner. We always eat together as a family (which is important in its own right) so this is a good time to center our day on The Lord and focus our attention on Advent. To this end, we've made a special playlist of Advent music which we play all during dinner. If dinner happens to run long, we have the soundtrack from Fr. Barron's Catholicism series as a handy backup to keep the spiritual mood of the season in tact.

Like many families we have an Advent wreath on our table. The wreath has four candles. Each Sunday another candle is lit while we pray a set of Advent prayers. We light our candles at dinner and eat with no other light on. Each week as we light another candle we eat in increasing light, reflecting the nearing of Christ, the light of the world, coming to dispel the darkness of death and sin. This has a great effect on the kids and makes the meaning of the season more concrete for them.

Prayer Sticks
A favorite of the kids and another dinner time ritual. My wife takes popsicle sticks, write the name of someone on each. We all take a turn drawing a stick and saying a short prayer for whoever is named on the stick. The sticks include both family and friends, famous people, the leaders of our Church and country, and general categories of people (e.g. the sick, the poor, the lonely).

We keep the Christmas tree stowed away until Guadete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent, December 15 this year), but our Nativity scene goes up on the first Sunday of Advent. We have a nice little set by Fontanini, which we add a few figures to each. We put everything out except the Christ Child, which Stays put away until Christmas Eve when we gather together, sing Silent Night, and place him in the manger.

Good Deeds
To inspire the kids to be extra good around the holidays, instead of telling them to try to get on Santa's good list (not that I have anything against Santa), we give them a small string or piece of straw which they place in the empty manger. The more good deeds they do, the more straw there will be to warm the Christ Child. This changes the focus of doing good deeds to ultimately get presents for yourself, to doing good to please God.

Last year I purchase 24 Christmas Stories to Welcome Jesus published by Ignatius Press. This great children's book features one story a day starting on December 1 right through Christmas Eve. With great stories like, The Annunciation to Mary (Dec 2), The Christmas Truce (Dec 8), Saint Lucy's Day (Dec 13), The Angels' Christmas (Dec 22), and The Nativity (Dec 24) this book can't be beat for keeping Christ in Christmas. I don't let the kids read ahead, but once we finish a story they can hear it again and again until the book goes back into storage (typically when we put away our Christmas decorations after Epiphany).

My very crafty wife likes to change this up each year, but the basic idea remains basically the same. Every day that passes between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas is marked in some way. Last year we had a cardboard calendar with each day hidden behind a flap door. In the morning the kids would open the next flap and read whatever Bible verse was hidden beneath. This year she is thinking of having them make paper chains, adding a new link each day, and strinimg them up in the dining room.

Holy Heroes
To make sure our other traditions are supported by strong teaching, my wife signs up for the Holy Heroes Advent Adventure. This great program includes daily emails (save Sunday) which include short videos, Bible stories, and instructions on how to make Jessie Tree ornaments. Best of all, its Free!

With these traditions we hope to instill a love for Christ, His Holy Church, and the great season of Advent in our kids as they grow older. Have a Happy New (liturgical) Year!

How does your family keep Advent from being swallowed up by commercial Christmas? I'm always grateful for new tips and ideas.

For more ideas check out these great blog posts:

Equipping Catholic Families: Keep Christ in Christmas
Coffee Moments with Sam     The Light of Hope
Faith Filled Freebies: Keep Christ in Christmas
Written by the Finger of God: Not Christmas as Usual
On the Way Home:  Keep Christ in Christmas
Sue Elvis Writes: Bring Christ to Others

Canadian Catholic Mom         Keeping The Little Ones Focused: An Advent Link-Up
Mountain of Grace Homeschooling   Keep Christ in Christmas
Home to 4 Kiddos        Keep Christ in Christmas
Embedded Faith          Boldly Be the Christ in Christmas
City Girl, Country Home         Emmanuel Is With Us. Are we WITH HIM?
Journey to Wisdom: Trusting in your Awkward Fiats

Training Happy Hearts            10 Ways to Celebrate the New Liturgical Year
Designs by Birgit: Elf on a Shelf and Santa Claus
A Slice of Smith Life: How we keep Christ in Christmas
Catholic All Year: Three Reasons I love Advent
Mary the Defender: Christmas The Battle Begins
Truly Rich Mom: Keep Christ in Christmas
Diapers and Drivel: Keeping Christ in Christmas

Raising Soldiers 4 Christ: Keeping Christ in Christmas
Campfires and Cleats How We Keep Christ in Christmas
Homeschooling With Joy        Keeping Christ in Christmas
Mrs Domestic Bliss     Gingerbread Nativity
The Chic Traveller      Keeping Christ in Christmas
California to Korea     Keeping Christ in Christmas
Dominique's Desk       Keeping Christ in Christmas


  1. I LOVE the prayer sticks and eating with only the Advent wreath light. Thanks for such great ideas. Have a blessed Advent.

  2. Love the prayer sticks as well...have seen the idea on catechetical boards for use in classrooms...great for families as well. I don't have little ones. I however, in my professional life work with families as I am the Relgious Education program coord. in my parish. Each year I look for ways to help families celebrate Advent. We have done all the well known ones like advent wreaths, Jesse trees, etc. New this year I found Shepherds Pouches. (see this from my work Pinterest boards ) A brief explanation: Small burlap bags meant to symbolize the pouches that shepherds would have carried when they visited the infant Jesus, are hung in your home in place of stockings. Over the weeks of advent, you deposit coins (or bills your choice) for the acts of random kindness children offer or acts of humility.... on Christmas eve the pouches are placed by the crib to offer as gifts to Jesus and the money is counted and given to the charity that you have chose as a family. Then the idea is that on Christmas morning children will awake to have small tokens placed in the bag.( I can think of some great religious items!!) ...we will see how it goes this year.
    Cyndi from the "Link Frenzy" over at

  3. I LOVE the prayer sticks idea! :) Thank you for the tip and for sharing what you do as a family! :) Blessings and prayers from the Philippines!

  4. We will definitely be adding the book, "24 Christmas Stories to Welcome Jesus", to our list - even if we have to play catch up for the first few days. I also liked how you mentioned that, since the candles on the Advent wreath are your only light source during dinner, the progressing weeks bring the light of Christ nearer and nearer. Wishing you a Blessed Advent!

  5. Thanks for the book idea! Also the prayer sticks are awesome and I could see using them throughout the year

  6. Your prayer sticks is a great Idea. I will definitely check out the book from ignatius.

  7. My kids really enjoy doing the Holy Heroes Advent adventure. I love the idea of the prayer sticks.

  8. I think I liked Holy Heroes more than my child.
    Gorgeous Nativity.

  9. Nathan,

    I look out for new Advent and Christmas books each year to add to our collection. The one you mentioned sounds so good, but unfortunately Ignatius Press doesn't sell it outside the USA. (We live in Australia.) Anyway, I did some searching, looking for second-hand copies, and discovered the author of that book has written a number of saints' books too. Have you seen them?

    The book we're reading each day over Advent is "The Jesse Tree" by Geraldine Mccaughrean. It also has 24 stories, or rather chapters.

    God bless!

  10. Hi Sue,

    I haven't seen any other books by that author, but I'll have to check into them now that I know they're out there! Thanks for the tip.

  11. Very thoughtful, organized and helpful post on Advent, thank you for sharing!
    We, too, listen to music & story CDs sometimes during a meal. Some CDs that may be of interested:
    + An Advent Procession based on The Great "O" Antiphons (The Choirs of St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle WA)
    + Veni Emmanuel (Ancient & Traditional Latin Christmas Carols - Classical Academic Press)
    + Epic - A Journey Through Church History (20 CD set by Steve Weidenkopf - Ascension Press) This is a FAVORITE of ours.

    Have a blessed Advent and God bless!

  12. I love your idea for good deeds! In fact, in the early Church Advent was like Lent a time of penance and fasting. Christmas Eve was even a day of required fasting (as was the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception) up and through the time of WWII. I continue to honor fasting on those days and encourage others to do the same. It's important that we keep our traditions. Advent is Advent. Christmas devotions and Christmas traditions (which the world keeps now) should take place over the 12 days of Christmas (starting on and after Christmas Day). People are forgetting about Advent. We have to do what it takes to preserve Advent.

    1. Hi Matthew, I too fast during Advent. Not quite as much as I do during Lent, but Advent is a penitential season (at least in spirit if not in law). God bless.

  13. Love the prayer sticks idea! What a great idea, I bet my kids would also enjoy that. I am just loving all these great posts, I am getting so many great ideas to add to future Advent celebrations!

  14. I love the prayer sticks idea! I've never heard of something like this. It could be great for any time of the year, and a good way to teach children how to pray :-)

  15. I love the prayer sticks...and I bet the Catholicism soundtrack is wonderful to have in the home! Great idea! It's such a wonderful series...and a great way to refocus!

  16. I like the prayer sticks idea. Very cool.

    1. Thanks. They seem to be the most popular of our family's traditions. We also do them in Lent. Have a blessed Advent.

  17. We keep Christ in Christmas by celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree. The ornaments and readings tell how God preserved the line of Jesus. An ornament is hung each night and scriptures read. A beloved family tradition.

    Ornaments and readings here: