Monday, December 2, 2013

A Time to Prepare

We don't take off school for Advent here--this year, we'll be schooling pretty much as usual from the Monday after Thanksgiving through the week before Christmas.  

This is partly because we like to hold off on the celebrating of Christmas until the Christmas season actually arrives.  In our home, we celebrate Christmas with feasting and fun from Christmas Day until Epiphany, and then continuing on in a more casual way until the Octave Day of Epiphany the week after, when the traditional liturgical calendar switches formally from "Christmas" to "the Weeks after Epiphany."  Our nativity displays stay out even longer, until Candlemas on February 2nd.  As you might imagine, if we started celebrating Thanksgiving weekend, we would be ready to pack everything up and get back to our normal routine by the time New Year's rolled around, if not earlier!  This way, celebrating is still fresh during those holy days.

The other reason is because of the nature of Advent itself: it is a preparatory season, a penitential season.  We try to sanctify it by adding in special devotions, books, songs, prayers, penances, and traditions, and there are feasts within Advent that we do celebrate (St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucy's Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day, Gaudete Sunday).  But the general mood of Advent is one of waiting and preparing, not of celebration.  So we hold off on our holiday as much as we can until the holy-day comes.

That said, even though we're not on "Christmas break," our days do look a bit different during those three school weeks of Advent.  We continue with our Year 2 readings as usual, but we also add in a few Advent activities:

:: Morning Basket.  Our Morning Basket plans during Advent include reading a section of Inos Biffi's Way to Bethlehem and praying the St. Andrew novena together, my favorite novena of the year.  (There is a lovely color printable you can download here, or you can download the black-and-white printable we use.)

:: Advent wreath.  We light this nightly during our family rosary while praying the Collect and antiphon for the week.  On Sundays, we include the Epistle as well. 

:: Evening devotions.  Every night before bedtime since my oldest two were toddlers, we have spent a few minutes at the little altar table outside their bedroom door, doing prayers or activities related to the traditional devotion for the month (January is the month of the Child Jesus, March is the month of St. Joseph, etc.).  During Advent, we pull a paper from our countdown paper chain.  Each paper has a "good deed" written on it, usually a prayer for someone.  We do that prayer together, and then the children add a piece of hay to the little manger we're preparing for Baby Jesus.  (It's a symbol of how the good deeds we perform prepare our hearts to receive Him as well.)  We add a piece to our felt nativity upstairs and then say an Advent-specific prayer in addition to our usual nightly litany.

:: Picture books.  We read one Christmas book each day as we count down toward Christmas.  During the formal Christmas season, the books all go onto our bookshelf and the kids have free reign over them. :)  But for Advent, we limit ourselves to just one per day.  I'll share some of my very favorites soon.

:: Memory work.  We substitute our usual memory work (poem, hymn, folk song, Bible) with Christmas-related selections.  These then become the children's Christmas program, which they perform for our extended family.  Here are our choices for this year:

Sara Teasdale's "Christmas Carol"
Philip Brooks' "Christmas Everywhere"
"What Child Is This"
"Joy to the World"
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
Luke 2:1-20 (or as much as we get through--we'll pick up the rest next year)

:: Art and handcrafts.  We also change out our weekly art project, drawing lesson, and handcraft for holiday making-and-baking.  This year, we'll be doing handmade Christmas cards together (an annual tradition) and cooking up lots of goodies.   And my kids have lots of independent crafting planned for gifts for one another and for others.  More on that later too. ;)

Do you adjust your school plans to accommodate Advent activities?  I'd love to hear how it looks in your home!


  1. I love this, Celeste!

    I have a question: when does your tree go up? I always wonder how others handle the Christmas tree during Advent.

    I have never heard of keeping the nativity up until Candlemas! I put our nativities out, but the manger is empty, and only Mary and Joseph are there (with a couple cows). We add the Shepherds during the lighting of the Shepherd's candle, add Jesus on Christmas morning, and then the Magi start their trek through the library shelving, which takes until Epiphany. :) It is great fun. I think my children think I'm a bit nutty due to the kick I get out of moving the Magi every day, but what can I say? Simple pleasures, I suppose. :)

    1. Thanks, Brandy! Our tree goes up on Christmas Eve night after the children go to bed. But I know others put out the tree on the First Sunday of Advent or on Gaudete Sunday (the midway-ish point) but leave it bare until Christmas Day or use it for their Jesse Tree hangings. I can imagine that those who buy a real tree might need to get it up sooner (so that they're still available at the lots) or later (so that they'll last until Epiphany). It's flexible for us since we have a fake tree. ;)

      And for the nativity: January is traditionally celebrated as the month of the Child Jesus and the Holy Family, and Candlemas is the last feast of the infancy narrative of Our Lord, so that's where the tradition comes from. We usually start to put the nativities out on Gaudete Sunday and do as you do, piece by piece, with the Magi arriving from afar (the family room ;)). All the Baby Jesuses (we have collected several nativites) join us as our centerpiece for Christmas breakfast and get placed in state during a post-breakfast family procession with music and candles. :) Yes, the simple pleasures!

  2. Love how you prepare, Celeste! We too are trying our best this year to keep it simple and focused on Him and not being overwhelmed with all of the hoopla that tends to happen this time of year. We usually go and get a tree the second Saturday of December and keep it up through Epiphany {as long as it is still fresh}. Thanks for the suggestions for memory work. Love them! I hope you have a very peaceful and blessed Advent.

    1. Thank you, Ann-Marie! Wishing you the same this Advent season!