My Top 10 Things Families Can Do to Observe Advent

By Sarah McDonald

When I told my children last year that Advent was supposed to be observed like Lent, I think I saw literal terror in their faces.  Imagine my little ones trying to compute how the secular holiday season compares to Lent, the season of prayer, fasting,and almsgiving. Honestly, it’s hard for me to fathom as well!

Beyond our Catholic churches and schools ,Advent is a lost season. In our “25 days of Christmas” world where Christmas décor overtakes our stores well before the Thanksgiving turkey is carved, it is challenge to observe Advent, but we, as a family, and I as an individual, try.

So as you navigate the “holiday season” here is my David Letterman-style Top 10 List of “Top 10 Things Families Can Do to Observe Advent”:

  • Put an Advent wreath on Your Table: Get an Advent wreath for your home – you know the drill (purple, purple, pink, purple) and place it at the center of your dining room/kitchen table. Each night at dinner, and yes I know family dinner is a hard thing to do altogether, light the candle and read a short reflect. Most local church parishes make Advent booklets available or you can find family-friendly daily Advent readings online at
  • Get an Advent calendar: Advent calendars have become really popular as countdowns to Christmas, but a traditional Advent calendar where the children can open the panels and read short stories from the Bible about the Christmas story enforces the “waiting and preparing the way for Christ” that Advent is supposed to be.
  • Celebrate the saints of Advent: Advent season is full of popular and not so popular saints’ feast days. St. Nicholas (AKA Santa Claus), St. Lucia and Mary, in her patronages of Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, are just a few that families can look to in the season of Advent as examples on our path to holiness.
  • Go to Confession: As Catholics, we are blessed with the opportunity to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Many Catholic churches expand the opportunities for confession in the Advent season to make it easier for families, at least those of age, to come together to receive the graces of the sacrament.
  • Fill your manger: We did this at my elementary school and, last year, we instituted it with my family. The idea is to create a comfortable bed for Baby Jesus by filling the manger, our “Elf” brought a porcelain one for our family, with hay that represents the good deeds we do for others each day. The idea is to do little things and big things for others with God’s love.
  • Choose Advent reading: As an individual or as a family, set aside time for some reflective reading that helps you grow in your faith. There are so many titles suitable for all ages, and it doesn’t have to be specific to Advent of Christmas to help us grow in faith.
  • Celebrate Bambinelli Sunday: Is my Italian showing? Bambinelli Sunday is celebrated in Italy on the third Sunday of Advent. It is the day that the Holy Father blesses the Baby Jesus figurines for the local children’s Nativity scene. Consider bringing your family’s “Bambinelli” to Mass with you that Sunday and having your pastor bless your figure to place in your home Nativity.
  • Adopt a family: Each year, we acknowledge and give thanks for the blessings God has given us by adopting a family through Catholic Charities. It’s a tangible way to get the children involved in the spirit of giving and the importance of helping those who are less fortunate than us. Learn more about Catholic Charities program here:
  • Pause for prayer: In the hustle and the bustle of the holidays it’s easy to get frazzled. When you feel overwhelmed, stop and pause for prayer to recall what the season is truly about.
  • Come join us at the Lighting of the Creche! On Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m., NOLACatholic Parenting is sponsoring a special caroling event in partnership with Notre Dame Seminary. The seminary community, led by Rector Father James Wehner will bless and light the outdoor crèche on the lawn of Notre Dame Seminary , 2901 South Carrollton Ave., and local vocalist Trish Genco will then lead the group in seasonal songs. Cookies, hot chocolate and coffee will be served. All are welcome! Click here for more:

This is not an exhaustive list, nor does anyone have to try everything on it, but, hopefully, it gives you, our readers some ideas to create Advent Family Traditions of your own.

Happy Advent!

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