December 6, 2012

Go with Your Strengths by Nancy Piccione

This morning, for the feast of St. Nicholas, our kids woke up to find chocolate coins in their shoes, new pajamas nearby, and a few other treats.  We will likely go to Mass and celebrate this day in style.  But that’s kind of an anomaly for our family when it comes to Advent.

In reality, as I wrote in part of my column for The Catholic Post last month, I’m usually not super-ready for Advent.

When I was a younger mom, I used to feel bad that I didn’t keep Advent as well as it seemed to me other moms and families were doing.

I’ll spare you the angst of those years, but suffice to say there was far too much time spent worrying I wasn’t “doing” Advent the right way.

Now?  I go with my strengths. And I leave the guilt back in the 1990s. 

It’s true that we don’t light our Advent wreath every day, and we don’t have a Jesse tree, and I don’t make St. Lucia buns and... fill in the blank. 

But I realize that we do keep Advent in our own unique family way.  For the Picciones, it’s primarily through books.

I know you must be shocked-shocked!-- to learn that I, a book blogger, would use books as our family’s primary way to celebrate and prepare during Advent.  Will it surprise you to know that for us, it works really well?

I describe a little bit about how we use books during Advent in a post on Reading Catholic (, but let me just share one book that’s especially appropriate for the Feast of St. Nicholas, and one we read each year on this day:  The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan, published by the always-reliable Bethlehem Books.

The Miracle of St. Nicholas recounts a young Russian boy wondering why his village cannot celebrate Christmas in their long-abandoned church after “the soldiers came.”  His babushka tells him it would take a miracle, and book shares how that miracle happens.

Judith Brown’s illustrations mimic the style of iconography, making this a luminous read-aloud for all ages.  This is a book not just to borrow from the library or a friend, but to own.

To find more Advent and Christmas book ideas, you can visit here or here or here or here.    (I describe these in more detail on Reading Catholic, but these get you to the important thing--the great book lists.)

If you want to start an Advent/book tradition, go check out some of these links, request as many books as you like from your local public library, and start some new traditions.

But my main advice for you?  Go with your strengths.

Maybe Advent is about books for you--for me, it’s lovely and effortless.  But perhaps cooking is more your style--and the many feasts during Advent and Christmastime offer ample opportunities to have fun in the kitchen.  Perhaps it’s crafts, or some combination of those.

But most of all, you should celebrate your Advent joyfully in your own way, and your family’s Christmastime will be richer and happier for it.

What are your strengths when it comes to celebrating seasons like Advent?  How can you use them best this Advent to prepare joyfully?

Nancy Piccione writes a monthly book column for The Catholic Post, newspaper of the diocese of Peoria, IL, and blogs about books, new media and other topics at Reading Catholic.  She and her husband Joseph have three lively children.  Nancy enjoys books, long-distance running, and dark chocolate, and lives in the hope that they balance each other out.

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. Love it. Tapping into our gifts and charisms and gifting them to our family. And now to go see if any local libraries have that book (just for now until we can buy it!). Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Going with your strengths is such great advice for a season like Advent, with its plethora of choices. It's a great way to narrow the focus - to focus at all! - and more comfortably settle in to the special rhythm of the season. And thanks for the book recommendation!

  3. Best advice I've heard about celebrating any season, but particularly Advent. Thank you for sharing such a great piece!

  4. Will be adding this book to our collection!

  5. Great advice! Loving this series!!

  6. Bonnie, thanks for inviting me to be part of your Advent series. I loved getting to reflect on this, and share a great book. We haven't read it yet at our house, but we will.

  7. Just put 4 books on hold at local libraries, can't wait to get them in!