When I was about ten my dad first introduced us to the old custom of Adventing before Christmas and Christmasing until Epiphany. At first, it was quite difficult for me to accept. My dad and I had many debates about how early was too early to turn on the real Christmas songs and all the Christmas lights. (Of course, it was not difficult to get used to the idea of leaving everything up a bit longer!) But now it’s like second nature to me and it’s totally worth the wait. Especially when the Advent traditions become their own thing that you can look forward to and come to cherish.
Now, one disclaimer: I do not believe it in keeping with the season to be a scrooge. I don’t think Advent is a totally penitential time. I don’t believe there’s any objectively right moment for decorating the Christmas tree or even for singing Christmas songs. (In fact, my family sings them an inordinate amount during the summer months.) The key is simply that we are waiting and withholding the fullness of joy and celebration. There are many different ways to do that. Here’s what we are planning to do this year:
- November 30th (St. Andrew’s Day): begin saying the “Christmas Anticipation Prayer”— this beautiful prayer is said fifteen times a day until Christmas. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a short prayer!
- First Sunday of Advent:
- Put out nativity scenes, stockings, and some wintry decor
- make an Advent wreath from backyard evergreens (not nearly as crafty as it sounds- just arrange them around the candles!)
- begin the straw for Baby Jesus tradition– when children do little good deeds they place a piece of straw in the manger and hope to fill it up by Christmas Day
- begin Jesse Tree (this is our first year doing this so we will see how it goes!)
- St. Nicholas Day: we fill each other’s stockings with treats and little gifts. We kind of go all out on this day with feasting and frivolity, especially because we have a Nicholas of our own.
- Lights: we have both indoor and outdoor lights. We turn a little more on with each passing week.
- St. Lucy Day: this year I plan to attempt St. Lucy’s rolls. I’m not much of a baker so we will see how that goes… I’m most enthused, however, about finding myself a candle crown to wear while baking or serving them.
- December 16th: for the first time this year we are going to start praying the Christmas Novena every night until Christmas Eve.
- Third Sunday of Advent: this is when we get our tree and partially decorate it. We like to leave something off until Christmas.
- Fourth Week of Advent: I try to focus more on the “penitential” aspect of Advent during this week. It’s also the time I devote to wrapping gifts.
- Christmas Eve-Christmas Day: In the morning we put babies in the mangers and finish whatever is left of the tree. Later on we turn on the Christmas music, spend time with our extended family, exchange gifts, go to Mass, and feast!
- Holy Innocents: we try to let the children decide how we spend this special day.
- During all the remaining 12 days of Christmas: we treat each day as much like Christmas as we can. We let the house be a mess. We plan outings to light shows, ice skating, etc. And we watch Christmas movies!
- Epiphany: We typically give each other three simple, practical gifts on this day that symbolize the three gifts of the Magi. Last year we began the tradition of blessing our house and inscribing the Wise Men’s names over our door (I usually forgot we had done this and got a lot of weird stares and questions throughout the year by visitors, but it was worth it!) We also recently started taking down a majority of our decor on this day. Taking down the decor on January 7th used to depress me so much it was my husband’s idea to make it a more fun, festive, family activity. So, once the day is coming to a close we try to clean up as quickly as possible and “hide Christmas away” as if we are the Holy Family rushing off to Egypt.
- Epiphany to Candlemas (February 2nd): we leave manger scenes out during this time and I’ve been trying to bring out more Carnival/Three Kings/Mardi Gras like decor. I would love for this season to become a special season in and of itself!
Finally, here are two Advent playlists:
First, a Spotify mix of my favorite Advent songs, serious/solemn AND fun/festive:
And second, some of my own Advent piano arrangements: