Advent Customs for the Home
Here are some ideas for that counter-cultural idea of saving Christmas for Christmas and celebrating Advent for what it is, a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The preparation of Advent is three-fold:
- We prepare with the Jewish people for the coming of the promised Messiah (the Jesse tree).
- We prepare for Jesus’ coming to us at Christmas (and every Mass is a little Advent & Christmas as Jesus becomes Present in the Eucharist).
- We prepare for Jesus’ coming at the end of time, for the new heavens and a new earth (highlighted in the readings at Mass).
Advent is a time for joyful growth and sacrifices that prepare our hearts and homes to welcome the coming King.
Save the Christmas songs, decorations, etc. for the Christmas season (which begins Dec 24!)–there will be weeks to enjoy them when it’s actually Christmas 🙂
Advent Customs for the Home
Stir-up Sunday: On the first Sunday of Advent, the traditional opening prayer (or Collect) of the Mass prays: “Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come.” Many families brought this thought home by “stirring up” plum pudding, fruitcake, or some other dessert that all members of the family could give a good stir, symbolizing stirring up our hearts in preparation for Christmas. The cake was then baked and aged until Christmas, when it was enjoyed by all.
Pray the St. Andrew Christmas “novena”: Pray the following prayer 15 times per day from the feast of St. Andrew (November 30) to Christmas (I made a set of 15 violet beads–strung like sacrifice beads but with a simple square knot at the end–to help us keep track)
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God
was born of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God!
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.
+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897
Decorate and/or dress in violet–the liturgical color of Advent (color of spiritual preparation)
Put away the Gloria: The Church “fasts” from the Gloria during this season of preparation so that we hear it with renewed joy as we join the angels in singing it in celebration of Jesus’ birth. Consider making a sign or banner saying “Gloria” to ceremonially put away at the beginning of Advent and bring out at Christmas
Confession: Let Jesus clean your heart before you give it to Him as a Christmas present.
Daily Mass, or reading the Scriptures from daily Mass: these readings are specifically designed to prepare us for the coming of Jesus.
Advent Music: Yes, I know it’s harder to find than Christmas music, but there are songs that express anticipation for the coming of Jesus, such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, “People Look East”, and “On Jordan’s Bank”.
Serve creative Advent foods
Symbols that represent Christ: These can be used in any form of decorating (tree ornaments, napkins, cards, stationery, etc.). Here are a few (of many): crown (Christ the King); manger (Jesus’ birthplace); sun or star (Numbers 24:17, Revelation 22:16); cross (Jesus died on a cross); shepherd’s staff (John 10:11); Chi rho (P & X superimposed, the first two Greek letters of “Christ”); Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Revelation 1:8); lamb (John 1:29); bread (John 6:35); stump with shoot (Isaiah 11:1); lion (Revelation 5:5); vine (John 15:1); fish (The Greek word for fish, “icthus”, is spelled from the first letters of the phrase “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” in Greek); fountain (Zechariah 13:1); rock (I Corinthians 10:4, Psalm 18:2, Matthew 7:24 or 16:18); daisy (innocence of the Child Jesus); anchor (Hebrews 6:19); door (John 10:9); branch (Zechariah 3:8, Jeremiah 23:5); rose (Isaiah 35:1); burning bush (God, the “consuming fire”, grew in Mary’s womb without consuming her); Jacob’s ladder (it united heaven & earth); butterfly, bee, peacock, phoenix or Jonah & the whale (symbols of resurrection); chalice & Host; hen & chicks (Luke 13:34)
Advent Wreath: The shape of the wreath symbolizes eternity and God’s Love–it has no beginning and no end. The evergreens symbolize eternal life and the never-changingness of God. The four candles (3 violet & 1 rose) are for the four weeks of Advent (and for the 4,000 years from Adam to Jesus), and we light one more candle each week as we draw nearer to the coming of Jesus, the Light of the World. The violet color reminds us that we have work to do in preparation for the coming of the King. As the carol says, “let every heart prepare Him room”. We spend Advent preparing our hearts to welcome God. The rose candle will be lit the third week of Advent as a sign of joy that He’s almost here! We light the candles each day during supper, but you could light them whenever you’re together. The first week, bless the wreath, then light one violet candle.
Blessing: Father/husband: Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Father/husband: Let us pray. O God, by whose word all things are made holy, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. Through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
He sprinkles the wreath with holy water (from the metal canister in church–store in a labelled bottle)
The second week, light 2 purple candles. The third week, light 2 purple and 1 pink candle. The fourth week, light all four candles. At Christmas, we replace the colored candles with one large white candle to symbolize Christ (white to represent His purity), replace the dried-out branches with fresh and decorate the wreath with small ornaments.
St. Nicholas Day: Children hang stockings, which are filled with goodies on Dec 6, in honor of St. Nicholas, patron saint of children (legend says that he threw sacks of gold through the window as dowries for poor maidens & the gold landed in stockings that were drying by the fire)
Christ Candle: Decorate a large white candle to represent Christ. Traditionally the Chi-Rho (a superimposed “P” & “X”) symbol is used–these are the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek. You could also cut out a picture of Jesus from a Christmas card & pin, glue or tape it to the candle (there are other options–let your creativity guide you). If you want to use paint, regular tempera paint mixed with white glue will stick. Then drape the candle in blue cloth (or gather it & tie around the candle like a cape), so the candle represents Jesus in Mary’s womb. At Christmas, remove the cloth and light the candle to reveal Christ as the light of the world.
Cushioning the Manger: One way to prepare for Jesus’ coming is to do what we know He would want us to do, even when it’s hard. Each time anyone on the family does a good deed during Advent (especially doing a little something nice for another person–even something as small as smiling at them), they put a piece of “straw” (real straw or strips of paper) in the “manger” (could be as simple as a small box). Then when Baby Jesus comes (add a baby doll at Christmas), the straw of your kindness will cushion the hard boards of the manger for Him, because what you did for the least of His people, you did for Him (see Matthew 25:40).
Progressive Nativity Scene: Instead of setting up the entire nativity scene at once, set it up in stages. Have Mary and Joseph start on the other side of the room and gradually get closer to the stable. The shepherds have their own “hillside” somewhere else. Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable Christmas Eve, and Baby Jesus, the angels and the shepherds come during the night. At this time, the Wise Men start on their journey from another part of the room, arriving for Epiphany (either January 6th –following the 12th day of Christmas–or the nearest Sunday).
Jesse Tree: Each day, hang the appropriate symbol (make or find them–you can choose others if you like) on a small, many-branched “tree” (we prop a branch of lilac in a stone-filled flowerpot) & read the story from the Bible. This is the family history (family tree) of Jesus. The idea of using a tree comes from Isaiah 11:1-4, where the prophet refers to the Messiah (Jesus) as a shoot that will sprout from the stump of Jesse.
Date Person/Event Symbol Scripture
Nov 28 Creation Globe Genesis 1-2:4
Nov 29 Adam & Eve Apple & snake Gen 3:1-19
Nov 30 Noah Rainbow Gen 9:8-17
Dec 1 Shem Blanket & grapes Gen 9:20-23
Dec 2 Tower of Babel Tower Gen 11:1-9
Dec 3 Terah Tent Gen 11:31-32
Dec 4 Abraham Starry sky Gen 15:1-6
Dec 5 Sarah Laughter Gen 21:5-8
Dec 6 Isaac Altar & ram Gen 22:1-19
Dec 7 Rebekah Camel & water jar Gen 24:10-24
Dec 8 Jacob/Israel Ladder Gen 28:10-19
Dec 9 Judah Lion Gen 49:8-12
Dec 10 Perez Twins, red thread on one hand Gen 38:27-30
Dec 11 Passover Lamb Ex 12:21-28
Dec 12 Commandments Stone tablets Ex 20:1-17
Dec 13 Rahab Red cord in window Jos 2:1-21
Dec 14 Ruth & Boaz Sheaf of grain Ru 3:7-11
Dec 15 Jesse Stump with shoot Is 11:1-4
Dec 16 David Crown 2 Sm 5:1-5
Dec 17 Solomon Temple I Kg 6:1-38
Dec 18 Rehoboam Map (Israel divided) I Kg 12:1-20
Dec 19 Hezekiah Shadow on 10 steps 2 Kg 20:1-11
Dec 20 Josiah Scroll 2 Kg 22:8-13
Dec 21 Jeconiah (exile) Tears or weeping willow Mt 1:11-12, Ps 137:1
Dec 22 Bethlehem (literally “House of Bread”) Jewish city Micah 5:1
Dec 23 Joseph Carpenter’s tools Mt 1:18-24
Dec 24 Mary Lily Lk 1:26-56
Dec 25 Nativity Manger scene Lk 1:1-19
Host a “Jesse Tea“
O Antiphons (Dec 17-23): These are the responses to the Magnificat of Evening Prayer of the Divine Office during the seven days before Christmas Eve, the “Golden Nights”. They are also the Alleluia verse at Mass for these days, and are found in the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. They’re over 1000 years old.
Each Antiphon addresses Jesus with a title from the prophecies of Isaiah. The Latin titles, read backwards, form an acrostic for the Latin “Ero Cras”, “Tomorrow I come” (which is true as we pray the last antiphon). These titles for Christ are: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Morning Star), Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles), Emmanuel (God-With-Us).
In the home, the O Antiphons could be prayed together around the Advent wreath when you light the candles (if you don’t have an Advent wreath, lighting any candle while you pray helps set the atmosphere). For a longer prayer, you could pray the O Antiphon before and after the Magnificat, the way it’s prayed during Evening Prayer. You could also make symbols for the antiphons to use in decorating (oil lamp, burning bush, key, stump with shoot, rising sun, etc.) or use these ideas for adding symbolic foods to your meals! Other ideas for crafts, foods and/or activities for each day can be found here and here.
Other O Antiphon activities include the O Antiphon house, treats for each day, symbolic crafts & activities for each day, and O Antiphon tree decorations, an O Antiphon poinsettia wreath and these lovely altoid tin shadow boxes (or this variation).
December 17: O Wisdom
Who issued from the mouth of the Most High,
Reaching out mightily from end to end,
And ordering all things tenderly
Come to teach us the way of prudence.
Isaiah 11:2-3: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord (see also Isaiah 28:29, Sirach 24:2-3, Wisdom 8:1)
December 18: O Lord of Lords
And Leader of the house of Israel
Who appeared to Moses in the bush’s flaming fire,
And gave to him the Law of Sinai
Come stretch out Your mighty hand to set us free
Revelation 17:14: They will fight against the Lamb but the Lamb will conquer them, for He is the Lord of Lords (see also Isaiah 11:4-5, 33:22, Genesis 3, Exodus 19-20, Deuteronomy 10:17, I Timothy 6:16, Psalm 136:3)
December 19: O Root of Jesse
Who stands as a sign for the people,
Before Whom kings silence their mouths,
With Whom all nations shall plead
Come to set us free without delay
Isaiah 11:10: In that day the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious. Jesse was the father of King David (see Ruth 4:17, among others), the “root”, of David’s dynasty, which God promised would last forever (I Chronicles 17:11-14). Since the world will come to an end, only Jesus could fulfill this promise; Jesus, the Son of David who is King forever. (see also Isaiah 11:1, Micah 5:1, Romans 15:12, Revelation 5:5 & 22:16)
December 20: O Key of David
And Scepter of the house of Israel
What You open, no one shuts
What You shut, no one opens
Come, deliver from the chains of prison
Those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death
Isaiah 22:22: And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. (see also Isaiah 9:6, 42:7, Revelation 3:7)
December 21: O Rising Dawn,
Splendor of eternal light And Sun of justice
Come to give light to those sitting in darkness
And in the shadow of death
Revelation 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things concerning the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star. (see also Isaiah 9:2, John 8:12; 12:46, Psalm 19:6-7)
December 22: O King of the Gentiles
And their desired One
Cornerstone who binds two into one
Come and save man
Whom You fashioned from the dust of the earth
Isaiah 2:4: And he shall judge the Gentiles, and rebuke many people (see also Psalm 2:7-8, Ephesians 2:11-13, 20-21, Genesis 2:7)
December 23: O Emmanuel,
God-with-us, Our King and Lawgiver,
The Awaited one of the peoples And their Savior
Come to save us, O Lord, our God
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (see also Matthew 1:22)
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God bless your preparations!