Advent/Christmas Plans in A Nutshell

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Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

This holiday season has snuck up on me. Last year I was on top of it all, which had everything to do with the fact that I was due to have a baby on December 23. As it turned out, I had exactly enough time to be completely ready. Right after we put the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve and were ready to “settle down for a long winter’s nap,” my water broke. So it was not much of a winter’s nap, but the next day we got the greatest Christmas present ever.

Though tomorrow is the first day of December, I have not started ANY shopping.  I have, however, given a little thought as to what I’d like the next few weeks to hold.

But before I get to our actual plans, I need to explain our current approach to the Advent/Christmas season:

For a few years we tried to observe only Advent until it was actually Christmas, and then celebrate Christmas for all 12 days. It really didn’t work for us. It felt like we never celebrated because Christmas day would finally arrive, fly by, and then everyone and everything would move on (except our parish – it stays decorated and we sing Christmas carols).  Then it felt like our attempt to observe the “12 Days” was really just us pretending that Christmas was not over.

So we are trying to find a way to truly celebrate Christmas while also observing Advent.

We do Christmas-y things during Advent like listen to Christmas music, get a Christmas tree and watch Christmas movies.

But we also listen to the readings in Mass each week and think about how we are waiting. With the whole church we celebrate that He came as a baby and we wait for him to come as King.

With all that being said, here’s what we plan to do this Advent/Christmas season:

This Weekend

Get a Christmas tree! We’ve always gotten a real tree, but last year we actually cut the tree down ourselves. We plan to do this again, and the kids are looking forward to the whole experience (wagon ride, picking our tree, cutting it down, watching the trees get bailed and then seeing it loaded on our car). Then, of course, we will decorate it.

Throughout December

We plan to light this countdown candle and open a window of this advent calendar each night at dinner. I’m opting for one candle this year instead of the traditional five (purple, pink and white) that are lit each Sunday in Advent. Our table is really small.

December 6

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with a surprise new book for each of our kids and brownies. We’ll try to talk about the real St. Nicholas, too, and watch The Polar Express.

December 8

Celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception by going to Mass in the evening and probably have dessert afterwards.

In the 2nd or 3rd week of December

Bake and decorate (gluten free) cut-out cookies. I was excited to find this mix from King Arthur Flour, as we’ve had great success with their gluten free mixes.

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Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

In the week leading up to Christmas Day

Build a gingerbread house! We did this last year and it was really fun, especially since we used a boxed kit and did not have to make the gingerbread first. The kids had a great time putting the candy decorations all over the house.

Go see Santa Claus at the mall. It still surprises me that our kids are into Santa and that we encourage it! We try to avoid outright lies on the subject, but so far it’s been fun and sweet. Last year was the first time any of our kids met Santa, and our mall Santa just happened to be a GREAT one. Before I knew it we were putting milk and cookies out for him – and an apple for the reindeer – on Christmas Eve (I ate the cookies and drank the milk before my water broke).

Take a drive to see Christmas lights. It’s amazing how much work some people do to make their houses look beautiful (or at least Christmas-y) at this time of year, so we drive around to enjoy it.

December 24

Go to the Christmas Eve vigil Mass. We would love to go to the midnight Mass at our parish, but it would be so hard for the kids. And then the next day would be so hard for us. Hopefully when they are older we can do that again.

So those are our plans in a nutshell. What do you do to observe Advent and Christmas?

How We Celebrated 2 Baptism Anniversaries!

We did it! We finally commemorated baptism anniversaries with more than a passing nod. To see my plan for actually living out the liturgical year, go here.

August 31 is a very special day for our family because it is the day on which we came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, two of us were baptized (husband Caleb and Anna). We’ve given this anniversary brief notice over the last three years, but this year was different.

We kept it SIMPLE. I did not have to make or buy anything special for this commemoration, and it took only minutes.

First, I planned a meal that Caleb and Anna would like, since it was their baptism anniversary…spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

Second, after we ate I got out the candles used in the rite of baptism and we had a mini service which I found on Loyola Press’s website. We omitted the Scripture reading this time because one of our children was antsy and one was a tired 8 month-old who had to be placed in a pack ‘n play for the duration.

To start I read this (from the website):

Today is the day that you, [name], were baptized. On this day you were welcomed as a Christian by your family, and by the Church. Today we will again sign you with the cross, to remember that you were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…

Then I lit the candles. Husband Caleb held one and little Caleb held the other (since Anna is 3 and not yet a good candidate for candle-holding). I continued:

In Baptism we have been filled with the light of Christ. May we walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. May we live each day knowing our true identity as beloved children of God. And when the Lord comes, may we go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom to live with him forever and ever.

After that little Caleb and I each made the sign of the cross on Caleb and Anna with the holy water from their baptisms.

Very meaningful. Very special. Emotions welled up in me as I read.

Then I proceeded to spill half the bottle of (very special) holy water on the carpet as I tried to balance hot-wax candles, my Bible, my phone (since I was reading from the internet), and the bottle of holy water. Keepin’ it real.

Oh, and little Caleb had to make the sign of the cross on Anna’s foot, since she was averse to the forehead-touching thing (Ash Wednesday really did her in this year).

The last thing we did was look at pictures from that day three years ago. Caleb’s baptism, Anna’s baptism, being received into the Church, Caleb and my confirmation and first communion and our marriage being blessed. What a good day that was.

The next special days for our family are coming up on September 30 (the feast of St. Jerome, whose name Caleb took at confirmation) and then the very next day, October 1, which is the feast of St. Thérèse (Anna’s saint). I haven’t figured out how to commemorate our saints’ days yet, so we’ll see what happens!

How to Observe the Church Year (by ignoring most of it)

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Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Almost exactly three years ago we became Catholic. One of the interesting aspects of Catholicism was the liturgical year with its feast days, fast days and memorials, etc. Growing up in the evangelical Christian world, as Caleb and I did, all of these special days and observances were new to us, but welcome. I looked forward to living out the liturgical year as a family along with the rest of the Church across the globe.

But then we never really did.

Yes, we went to Mass on days of obligation (holy days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass), and were vaguely aware of different feasts as they passed us by. Yes, we observed Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending in the Triduum and the great Easter Vigil.

And of course there is also the weekly rhythm of going to Mass on Sundays and observing the different weeks of Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as the special feasts that always fall on Sundays (Corpus Christi, for example).

But month after I month I look at my calendar (which I get from my parish each Christmas) and see the names…so MANY names of saints who are remembered on the days throughout the year. And there are simply too many to observe them in any meaningful way. Passing notice…maybe. But I can’t make THAT many cakes.

The shear volume of feast days (Or memorials? I’m not quite sure of the difference yet.) is overwhelming. What in the world do we do to observe a particular day, anyway?

I have looked for answers to these questions in books like The Little Oratory, The Year & Our Children and Catholic Catalogue, as well as websites and blogs. As much as these resources have to offer (and they do), I never feel like I come away with enough practical know-how to start observing anything with my family.

SO…I’ve come up with my own plan.

In order to observe the days of the liturgical year most important to us, I need to flat-out IGNORE almost the entire church calendar.

Yep! So that’s what I’m going to do.

There are just a few simple steps to my plan. They are:

  1. Observe our baptism days – We will celebrate the date on which each of us was baptized. For our family, two of us were baptized on the day we came into full communion with the Church, so that’s an especially special day.
  2. Observe our saints’ days – Caleb and I have saints whose names we took at Confirmation, and we have chosen saints for our children. We will observe each of their feast days.
  3. Observe holy days of obligation – We’re already doing this, but we’ll make more of an effort to make them special.

That’s 9 days plus 6 days of obligation = 15 days to observe as a family for the whole year.

That’s more like it.

Admittedly, I don’t have a super-duper ready-to-go way of practically observing all these days, but I hope you will stick with me as I go on this liturgical journey through the church year with my family and discover how to mark and remember some of the most important days and people in our lives.

Our anniversary of entering the Church (and two baptisms) is only nine days away, so I better come up with something!