Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Preparing a J.O.Y.ful Advent

This post is part of a group blog-sharing project about Advent Traditions...
Let me just say that I am honored to be writing along with a fabulous group of ladies and Sisters in Christ!
(See list of their blogs below to check out their Advent Traditions)
If you are anything like me, you might find yourself asking how you prepare a J.O.Y.ful Advent in the middle of the busyiest time of year?  How do we find peace and the reason- for- the- season amidst all the things "to do?"  These are the questions I ask myself every year, always looking to simplify the hustle and bustle yet also participate fully in the traditions of our Catholic Christian faith.
Sometimes half the battle is getting organized.  See my post titled Advent for Dummies about this!
Advent Traditions...How did we begin?
For my husband and I, our deepest desires were to take the focus off of the commercialism of Christmas and create traditions for our family that centered around our faith.  In the early stages of our parenthood, we sought to focus on the anticipation of Christ's birth as we journeyed closer to Him ourselves.  Hence, this did not happen "overnight" for our family.  About 12 years ago, I was a cradle Catholic coming coming back to the church and my husband was a new convert.  We were "learning as we go," so to speak, about the many beautiful traditions of our faith that have been passed down over hundreds of years. In the throws of having children, we slowly dropped some secular traditions and adopted others that were more faith-filled and "do-able" while changing diapers and filling sippy cups.  Transforming the secular to sacred  came about one year at a time and the journey still continues!
Each year we aim to move closer to where we desire our family to be, one step at a time.

Regardless of the ways that we enhance our Advent, we've discovered that there is J.O.Y. to be found if we start by focusing our hearts in the right direction...
 Shifting our focus (both heart and mind) is often half the battle!
~Beginning our Advent with "J.O.Y."  brings much JOY in return~
J.O.Y is a simple acronym but it fits perfectly into the Advent season as we journey through our days, seeking Him and JOYfully preparing our hearts for Christmas, hoping to constantly teach (and model for) our children that it is always better to give than receive.

  I love that Advent derives from the Latin word "Adventus" which means "arrival." It is a time of waiting for the arrival of Christmas and the coming of Jesus to earth, the Word made flesh.  During Advent, Christians around the world prepare to celebrate this arrival of God Himself into the world through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I've been reflecting on this preparation for the last couple of months when Jen came up with the idea for a Catholic bloggers writing project.  Going over our own family plan for Advent has given me the gentle nudge to get organized and prepare...This is the other half of my battle!  To make the most out of preparing our hearts, we really do need to get organized.  Here are some ways we do that in our home...

Preparing a J.O.Y.ful Home...Included the whole family!
In our home, it is a tradition that we kick off the first Sunday of Advent with a special family dinner and family/team huddle.  The team huddle allows us to regroup as a family, press the reset button, and lay out our plan for J.O.Y. during Advent, both as individuals and as a family team. (We do the same thing for Lent) Isn't the rhythm of the liturgical calendar such a gift?

J. for Jesus...
Happy New ChurchYear!
The first Sunday of Advent is also the beginning of a new liturgical year, following the life of Jesus.    The liturgical year is the cycle of seasons in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.  This coming year has been named the Year of Grace.  
This is what this year's new liturgical calendar looks like...I order ours from Aquinas and More. For $15.00, it's laminated:)
We buy the new calendar each Autumn and save it for the beginning of the new year at Advent to review and talk about the upcoming church year.  Following the liturgical seasons at home has brought many blessings to our family:) Beginning the new church year with Advent definitely puts Christ at the core of our celebration.

During our first Sunday of Advent family dinner, we traditionally give out new winter pajamas for each child, wrapped in purple (Advent colored) paper, a long with a prayer card.  There's no sacred reason for this tradition...Just because.  Although it does match our mission to hunker down, spend time together as a family and get cozy while we celebrate the season:)  

Our Advent wreath is ready to go that first Sunday and the first candle is lit in prayer.  I remember growing up with an Advent wreath in the home so it is a comforting part of my childhood to carry on this tradition. We continue our prayer time and candle lighting each night, thereafter, singing the first verse of O Come Emmanuel.
We use this booklet of prayers but you may also print Advent wreath prayers from some great online resources.  This great Advent workshop has just about anything you need!

O. for Others...
Serving others also serves Jesus and yet another way to prepare for His coming.
Our family has adopted a common Christian tradition that many other families share...
Preparing the Manger!
We start the season with an empty manger and a bowl of soft yarn.  Each time a family member does a good deed or makes a sacrifice, (inside or outside the home) they place a piece of yard in the manger.  The goal is for a soft manger, many acts of kindness later,  for baby Jesus on Christmas morning.

We lay baby Jesus in the manger first thing Christmas morning!
Catholic Mom is offering a free printable "countdown" chain that includes little acts of kindness for each day of Advent.  We are going to hang it near our manger for daily ideas:)

Last year we decided to give baby Jesus a royal blanket since the kids felt bad that he was naked while we waited for the Magi to arrive!  We crowned the little King of Kings on the Feast of the Epiphany when the 3 Wise Men made it to the manger.
In addition, we are adding Sarah Reinhard's book to our plan this year.  It is a sweet little booklet that includes daily prayers, encouraging us to Think, Pray and Act.  I love her daily ideas for charitable works and acts of kindness.  I am planning to use this for our morning prayer with default to evening if we fail;)
We also keep a little manger under our Christmas tree, absent of baby Jesus.  On Christmas morning, baby Jesus is hidden somewhere in the house for the children to find.  The winner of the hunt gets to put baby Jesus under the tree.
~It is in giving that you receive~
I love how the Advent season provides many ways to serve others in need.  Growing up not having a ton of money, my parents alway made sure we gave back to our community.  We always participated in a needy child's Christmas shopping event or gave in another significant way.  This valuable lesson always stuck with me. Over the years we have done the best we can to carry on this tradition.  Our kids always look forward to picking other children's names from a Giving Tree in our community.  In the last few years, our church has sponsored one.  They enjoy shopping for the particular need of that child/children and returning their wrapped gifts to give.  This year our youth ministry will be in charge of organizing the Giving Tree so it will be a wonderful service opportunity, directly involving kids of all ages!  Being that our family is heavily involved with Youth Ministry, it will be a bonus JOY to serve in this new way.  I think it's always important to remember that the gift of our time is often a gift in itself, even if we have scarce budgets ourselves!

We also make a trip to sing Christmas Carols to the elderly each year...It is one of my favorite memories of the Christmas season when I was a young Campfire Girl.  It's still a JOY to do and our children look forward to it, just the same.  It's definitely a highlight for young and old alike!  

Y. is for Yourself last...
As long as it is I, it is not He.
I read this neat passage from Father Maurice Zundel who was also Swiss philosopher and mystic.  We will be talking about this passage during our Advent family huddle:
"I do not believe in God by forcing myself to believe in Him. I meet Him, that is all I can say.  When the "I" is not there, He is.  It is as simple, as day-to-day, as evident as that.  Hence, we must search in that direction. We will find God, the true one, only in this liberation of our selves.  As long as it is I, it is not He.
When it is He, then He is really there...."
This is a constant battle in my own selfish nature but it's one worth taking on each and every day.  Advent is the perfect time to make this a priority.

After that First Sunday of Advent, we are in full swing!
10 more Advent Traditions 
that I look forward to...

1. Prayer and Silence
We try to hunker down more than usual during Advent, making more time for family and personal prayer...And keep the television to a bare minimum, if not completely off.  Sadly the kid channels are the worst for promoting greed.... The constant commercials, advertising the latest toy, sends my littlest ones into an "I want" frenzy.  It's wicked, I tell you!
I am looking forward to this Advent book:)   
The focus in this book is to Ponder, Act, and Pray, journeyting with the Mother of God.
I can't wait!
I bought this Matthew Kelly book for my husband.
I look forward to finding my way back to my  own personal prayer journey as I always seem to fall off the wagon after our hectic Fall schedule.  Without the power of prayer and private time with the beloved, I am nothing.  I long to continually meet God and not just believe in Him.

A small group of my friends also talked about doing this spiritual cleanse for Advent.  If not for Advent, maybe to kick off the New Year:)
I also love these resources for Advent prayer:
2.  Advent Calendar~
I started with this one years ago...
We later added the Nativity themed calendar.  All of our kids enjoy this countdown...Even the 18 year old (Shhhh:)

3. Celebrating Advent Feast Days:
These are always the sprinkles on our JOY... We have added these special feast celebrations to our Advent in the most recent years.  I have provided the link-backs to our archives if you would like to peek and see more details about how we have celebrated each of these feast days.  
~To date, we celebrate these 4 and try to keep things simple but meaningful~

St. Nicholas~December 6
We enjoy reading about this saintly man each year!  If you have never visited the St. Nicholas Center, be sure to do it...Everything you'd want to know is there!  I always buy the neatest holy cards there each year.
Our celebration includes filling shoes with chocolate coins and the kids receive some small faith based gift.
Playmobil came out with these adorable St. Nicholas and Angel toys that I picked up this year for each child at a very inexpensive $4.95 price.  I noticed that Amazon is already out of stock so I included a link to Catholic Child.
Last year we began this tradition of making a St. Nicholas Mighty Miter Cake, after the inspiring Bishop of Myra.
To date, we still celebrate Santa Claus with stocking treats on Christmas morning as an off-shoot of St. Nicholas the "real Santa Claus."  We started with our first children when they were younger and have kept this tradition so far...:)

After Mass, we enjoy bringing flowers to Our Lady on this special day:)
Like other families, we try to eat white foods all day in honor or Mary's purity.  Catholic Cuisine always has great ideas:)
Lacy's coloring page  for the Immaculate Conception is my favorite!

Patroness of the Americas

I have a special love for this feast day!
We traditionally participate in the parade and Rosary, sponsored by our parish Hispanic community.  Afterwards we enjoy a feast of foods native to Mexico, sometimes accompanied by a craft like this one.

St Lucia~December 13
A new Advent tradition!
This will be our first year celebrating this feast day, other than reading about it.  Back in January, we picked St. Lucy, via the Saint Generator, as our family Patron Saint to guide us through our year.  We like to think that she actually chose us!  Hence some new traditions are forming this year to be posted later:)
This is the liturgical folder that we made earlier in the year to learn more about St. Lucy.  Gardenia from My Little Flower was the inspiration for the folder!
  I love the St. Lucy resources from Paper DaliO Night Divine and Catholic Icing.
I have this planned to bake!

4.  Advent Decorating
Well, you can ask anyone who knows me...I'm a sucker for decorating, especially Liturgical Decorating!
So as you can imagine, it gives me great J.O.Y. to decorate for Advent.

We enjoy decorating our home, keeping things centered on the birth of our Savior.
During Advent, we drape our prayer table with a purple cloth and prepare the way for Jesus. Using the same colors that we see at church and Mass helps unify our faith and home life.
Last year, we enjoyed Gardenia's idea and made a Nativity Candle to light during our family Rosary.  We keep it on our prayer table as a reminder to pray and spread J.O.Y.

You can even add a simple cross to your Christmas wreath to transform the secular to sacred.

I am embarrassed to count how many different Nativity scenes that I have collected over the years!  Last year I put them to good use and created a Stations of the Manger so we can travel around our home, stopping at each Nativity scene, for prayer on Christmas Day.
Both my husband and I cherish our memories of growing up with a special Nativity set in our homes as children.  My Mother-in-law painted this ceramic one in the 1970's and recently passed it on to us.  It holds a place of honor in our home throughout the Advent and Christmas season.

5.  Each year, God willing, we attend a "live" Journey to Bethlehem that a local Christian church re-enacts.  Walking the journey at night is a wonderful way to feel the spirit.  Our children also participate in our Christmas Eve Las Posadas in our parish.

6. Jesse Tree~  This tree traces the ancestry of Jesus.  It his His family tree brought to life through brief scripture readings, one for each day of Advent.  To be honest, we have not graduated to a "real" tree with this tradition.  We still have the original (poster) tree that we made 2 years ago:)  I just love the idea of reading a scripture verse each day but this tradition has been a bit of a struggle since it was an unfamiliar for both my husband and I.  We hope to "keep at it" and make it more familiar to our future generations. I will say that if you are interested in starting one, this book that comes with a poster  is by far the easiest and simplest introduction for beginners that I have seen.  It includes the day by day scripture guide.
My goal is to laminate our ornaments this year to keep them in better shape:) 
~This is what a completed Jesse Tree poster looks like~

7. A traditional date with dear husband to a Sacred Music Concert in our local area. This is a much needed time out mid-December each year:) Be sure to look for a Schola Cantorum concert in your area...It is pure heaven!
This year we have invited a few other couples to join us!  Christmas music brings JOY to the heart and soul:)
If you can't get out for a concert, I highly recommend this beautiful CD...It's my new favorite!

8. O'Antiphon Countdown begins December 17th!
I love this simple countdown to Christmas and the highlighted symbols.  We made votive candles from the printable symbols.  If you link back to the archives, I provide easy instructions:)

9. Advent and Christmas picture books~
Doesn't everyone love Christmas books?
We try to read 1-2 books each day since we have an abundant collection:)
 I love to "ideally" follow Jessica's list by day since we have many of the same books!

10.  Baking cookies for our neighbors
Christmas Peanut Butter Kisses
These are the same cookies we make each year to give out to neighbors and loved ones.  We started making them years ago because there were only 4 ingredients necessary!  It was an easy cookie for the kids to help with and we could easily make a lot:)
Please Note:
Not everything goes as planned!
Please don't feel bad about what you are not doing but rejoice in what you are doing and dream of the possibilities:)
 We start each day anew,  just like we do every day...seeking to know, love and serve the little child who is the Messiah, our God and Savior.

Joy and love is all we really need.
Praying that you have a J.O.Y.ful Advent!

Be sure to visit these other lovely blogs for more sharing of Advent Traditions!
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