Advent in the Heart of My Home

Advent is upon us. We spent the First Sunday of Advent in Charlottesville in a soccer stadium. The soccer team won, so we'll be spending St. Nicholas Day there, too. These are good things, I remind myself--really good things. St. Lucy's Day is the first day of The Nutcrracker. All good things. 

Yesterday was a long, slow day. I'm struggling more than a little to find my rhythm and my purpose and my enthusiasm. So, I've pulled this post up and I've read it slowly, prayerfully, editing and adjusting and remembering that this does matter. And even if it seems otherwise, they do take it with them when they go. They do.


 Advent is a treasured time of year for our family and our traditions are both old and new. From the time my oldest son was a very little boy (about 25 years ago), picture books have been the pegs upon which we’ve hung our advent celebrations. Those baskets of books have grown through the years and now, my littlest girl, just five years old,  listens to the same stories and celebrates with many of the same traditions. Every year, I think I can just add Advent to our regular routine. And every year, within a few days, I recognize that living Advent all day, every day, suits our family best. Over the years I’ve written several homeschool lesson plans ( Tomie de Paola and friendsJan  Brett and moreAround the WorldA Fairy Tale Christmas; for the young lady) , incorporating typical school subjects with our every day Advent life. And every year, our traditions change just a little bit as our family changes.


We usually begin our Advent celebrations the first weekend of Advent. We bring out the Advent wreath and other reminders that this is the season to prepare. Purple letters propped on the mantel are visual reminders that it is a season of getting ready—it’s not yet Christmas. Our favorite books for the first weekend are whimsical works of Tomie de Paola. We read all about Strega Nona’s preparation in Italy in Merry, Christmas, Strega Nona and Strega Nona’s Gift. And then, we read about the angels getting ready for a celebration in heaven in Country Angel Christmas. I always resolve to make sure that the Advent wreath is lit each night, which is really my resolution not to let Christmas preparations get so crazy that we don’t make time for quiet family meals. The length of those candles is my measure of mealtime success. If we burn a candle or two all the way down before Christmas, all the better. We were gone the First Sunday of Advent. I completely forgot Monday night, even though the candles on the wreath were right in front of me. Tonight, I resolve to do better.  Despite my best efforts, my children tell me that sometimes, it  feels like a crazy mess!


We light the candles with a song, adding one verse each week,

Light one candle for hope, one bright candle for hope, He brings hope to everyone. He comes! He comes!

Light one candle for peace, one bright candle for peace, He brings hope to everyone. He comes! He comes!

Light one candle for joy, one bright candle for joy, He brings hope to everyone. He comes! He comes! {Here we switch out the mantel letters for pink ones that spell “Joy” and we light the glass luminaria on the front porch which spell “Joy” also. The children know we’re getting very close.}

Light one candle for love, one bright candle for love, He brings hope to everyone. He comes! He comes!


Around December first, we trim our tree, placing it in a front window to light the evening and bear witness to our waiting. We read The Legend of the Christmas Tree. We also begin our Jesse Tree devotions. We’ve much enjoyed  Ann Voskamp’s meditations for several years now. Ann has a new book this year and I'm hoping to share that study with a friend. Today's only the 3rd--not too late to start, right? We also place several manger scenes around the house. A favorite book to celebrate the appearance of the crèche in every nook and cranny here and there is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey. There is a little bit of a war in our house about whether baby Jesus should be in the manger or whether he should be hidden until Christmas Eve. Some of the children think that he should be hidden since we’re waiting. But the wee ones want to re-enact the nativity again and again, so they need the Baby. My compromise is to ensure that the scenes which are safe for playing hands have Jesus to hold all through Advent.


On December 6th, we read The Miracle of St. Nicholas and The Baker’s Dozen. The children are treated to stuffed stockings in the morning and we begin cookie baking that day. Clearly, my children understand that Santa Claus is a legend that began with a real man who served the poor. Because our stockings come early, they aren’t filled by Santa. They each will find, among other things, an ornament in their stockings.  When they are grown and have Christmas trees of their own, their ornaments will go with them. Last year, I sent Michael off with his own box of ornaments. I was kind of crushed when he put his tree up way before Advent began this year, but he did wait to decorate it. It was strange not to hang some of those old, familiar ornaments here this year, but it was comforting to know they're still bringing him joy there. 


On December 12th, we read The Lady of Guadalupe and enjoy Mexican hot chocolate. We share a traditional blessing with one another: May God be as good to you as He was to Juan Diego. Then, we usually have tacos for dinner.


My children love the Feast of St. Lucia, on December 13th. We read  Hanna’s Christmas, a darling little story about a Swedish girl who is homesick in America. We talk about St. Lucy and we think it’s pretty cool that she’s an Italian saint who is beloved by Scandinavian countries. Since I am Italian and my husband is Scandinavian, she’s the perfect saint for our family! The girls awaken early and dress and make cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for all the men in the house. They wear fabric crowns of holly and candles and delight in serving breakfast in bed. Because St. Lucy is the patron of light, that evening is the perfect one to drive around the neighborhood and admire Christmas lights.  Lucia, Saint of Light is the preferred bedtime reading.


On December 17th, we begin to sing the O Antiphons. You might recognize them in the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.My children know that Christmas is close indeed when we get our little Antiphon house out and begin to fill the rooms with golden cubes. Each Antiphon begins with "O" and addresses Jesus with a unique title which comes from the prophecies  and whose initials, when read backwards, form an acrostic for the Latin "Ero Cras" which means "Tomorrow I come." I absolutely cannot find those blocks this year. So, it appears to be time to make some new ones. 


For some reason I cannot remember, this is also the time for Peppermint Day. We make peppermint marshmallows and peppermint cocoa, peppermint bark and peppermint crackle cookies. We read  The Legend of the Candy Cane. And we begin to get really ready for the twelve days of Christmas which will begin on the 25th.

Crackle cookies


In December 2011, my oldest son took to heart the dictionary definition of Advent: : onset, beginning, commencement, start.


And, he really one-upped the tradition of celebrating all the little advent feasts with a picture book:-). He wrote and illustrated a picture book for his girlfriend. At the book’s end, he asked her to marry him.

Advent: a beginning.

Last year, we are all celebrated Christmas wedding on the weekend the Church dedicates to the Holy Family. For the record, I think that is the perfect weekend for a wedding.


And next year, there will be a little granddaughter for whom to hang a stocking (Remember? Last year, you all gave me lots of ideas about that tradition

Our Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, my husband has taken my children to the wharf in DC to buy seafood for our feast. My grandmother used to do this when I was a child.  While I have scaled down the traditional Italian Christmas Eve of seven fishes, I do still cook whatever ocean treasures they find and bring home. We go to Mass as a family and come home to open presents. Then, my children sleep well and linger long in their pajamas Christmas morning. The celebration has just begun...