Our Family’s Advent traditions



Our family’s Advent traditions probably look different from what many American families are used to in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Growing up I always thought of Advent as just that time where we’re working ourselves up into being excited about Christmas and all the presents we’d be getting. If we did Advent “right”, then on December 26 we would be so sick of Christmas that our mom would eagerly tear down the tree, the lights, and the last bits of wrapping paper, and we’d feel that final let down that Christmas was, in fact, over.

As I got older and began to explore the Catholic faith that I’d grown up with, I learned that in the Christian tradition, Advent is meant to be a quiet season. Growing up, and going to Catholic Mass, I never quite ‘got’ why I didn’t hear Christmas music or see Christmas decorations until what seemed to me to be, after Christmas. But if you’re familiar with the practice of observing Lent, when you walk into a Catholic church during Advent, you’d notice that the colors and tone of the Mass are very similar to Lent. It’s a time of penance and watchful waiting. As I learned more about this, I wanted to help make our home and our family’s Advent traditions reflect this tone of quiet, watchful waiting, and the slow unfolding of the birth of the Christ child at Christmas.

Our Advent Wreath and Nativity

Most people are probably familiar with the tradition of the Advent wreath. The wreath has four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, with three purple and one pink candle, each with a different meaning. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent we light the first purple candle at dinner. The next Sunday we light two purple candles. The third Sunday we light 2 purple and 1 pink, and the last Sunday, we light all four. We also have a special Advent prayer that we say before meals. One of my favorite traditions is that on Christmas Eve we burn the remaining candles all the way down throughout the day. It always seems that the last candle burns down just as we’re setting out the cookies for Santa and putting the kids to bed.

We also have a nativity scene that we display during Advent. But we don’t put baby Jesus into the manger until Christmas Day. A newer tradition for us since we moved to Corpus Christi, is our older children participate in a Live Nativity at St. John Paul II High School, which is a free drive through event for the community.

Our Christmas Tree

We always love to get a real tree every year, but we don’t rush out after Thanksgiving and buy one. Instead we wait a week or so and buy our tree. We decorate it with pink and purple lights to represent the weeks of Advent, but we don’t put on any ornaments. Then on Christmas Eve we fully decorate it. For us Christmas itself is a season, not just one day. So the tree stays up until the feast day of Epiphany, which is twelve days after Christmas day. Epiphany is the feast day that celebrates when the three kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus.

Advent Feast Days

One nice thing about Advent is that there are several feast days during the season that are really fun and they can help break up the quiet of Advent. These have also become part of our family’s Advent traditions. On December 6, St. Nicholas’s feast day, our kids put their shoes out and get chocolate coins and small presents from St. Nicholas. The grown ups drink bishops wine. On December 12 we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe by making a big dinner of Mexican food and margaritas.

Music and Movies

Instead of listening to all the Christmas music before Christmas Day until we are totally tired of it, our family’s Advent tradition is to listen to Advent music. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t yell at my kids or husband if they are listening to Christmas music, but instead we’ve found beautiful Advent music playlists. We love this playlist and this playlist. Similarly, we don’t watch Christmas movies until after Christmas day. Since we celebrate 12 days of Christmas starting on December 25, that’s when we listen to all the music and watch all the Christmas movies!

The Christmas Season

For us Christmas is a season. Once December 25 hits, we’re just getting started! Between December 25 and Epiphany, we take some time away from work to enjoy it! We bake cookies and treats, listen to Christmas music, keep our tree up, and watch Christmas movies. On Epiphany we like to have a party with friends where we have Rosca de Reyes (king cake).

If you’re looking for a way to dive into the true meaning of Advent and Christmas, slowing down and savoring Advent is a beautiful way to really prepare for the joy of the Christmas season.