Growing up, my family was Catholic but we never did much to celebrate the liturgical year at home. The one thing we did do, however, was have an Advent Wreath. We kept our wreath on our dining room table and at night time, we would light the allotted number of candles. Then, after dinner, we would go around the table to see who could blow them out. To add a little twist, we couldn’t lean over the table. That made the game much more fun as the weeks went on as there was an increasing number of candles to blow out.
Now that I'm the parent, we do something similar with our own family. We go around the table giving the kids a chance to blow out the candles, but because they're so little, we let them lean-in on their turn.
One of the other traditions, which I first discovered through Jessica at Shower of Roses, is the Jesse Tree.
“The [Jesse Tree] custom is based on… Isaiah 11:1: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.’ The Jesse Tree is hung with ornaments representing Old Testament people and events – Jesus’ roots. The traditional symbols are based on the genealogy of Jesus in Chapter 1 of the Gospel according to Matthew.”
- The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould
There are several Jesse Tree Kits you can buy, or you can make your own. I used the pictures from Jessica’s blog to make my own Jesse Tree two years ago. I'll admit, when we used it last year with our two kids, then ages two and 14 months, most of the Old Testament stories just went over their heads. This year, however, we are spending more time discussing the symbol and talking about how it relates to Jesus’ story. Some days go better than others, but I know how important it is for us--me especially!--to be reminded of Jesus’ roots.
In addition to the Advent Wreath and the Jesse Tree, the only decorating I do at this time of the year is to add the letters P, R, E, P, A, R, E to the top of a bookcase in our dining room.
If you have ever been 37 weeks pregnant, you know the excited anticipation that comes with knowing a baby is on the way, a baby who can be born at any moment. You count down the days, wondering if today might be the day. The anticipation throughout Advent is somewhat dampened because we all know the ending (and when it will happen.) We celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, year after year. So, I wondered, how can we revive that?
After my oldest son’s first Christmas, feeling so overwhelmed with all the busyness of the season –going from here to there, decorating, all the gift-giving – I felt the need to just stop and enjoy the quiet anticipation of Advent. Around that same time, I came across a tradition where some families do not put up a Christmas tree or decorate until Christmas Eve. At first, this seemed odd. Wouldn't “procrastinating” to put up the Christmas decorations make everything even more hurried and rushed?
Yet the following year, I decided to give it a shot. Our parish holds a Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve at 4pm. I put dinner in the crockpot early that afternoon, we went to Mass, and then came home to a yummy dinner. We turned up the Christmas music, leisurely decorated our tree, gave the kids a bath, and put them to bed. Nothing was rushed. Nothing was burdensome. For the first time, the Advent season of prayerful waiting and anticipation had been successfully distinguished from Christmas.
My hope is that all of these traditions--the Advent Wreath, the Jesse Tree, the "PREPARE" letters, the late-rising Christmas tree--
Kathleen is married to her high school sweetheart and new media extraordinaire Brandon. She stays at home with their three children Isaiah, Teresa, and Augustine, and strives to foster a culture of holiness and faith in her home.
For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.