Yesterday morning, Maggie looked up from her book as I plodded sleepily into the living room and greeted me with, “Mom, you brought a dead body into the house.”

“What?!?”

I mean, she has a somewhat morbid imagination for a four year old girl who loves sparkles and twirly skirts, but this was a surprise, even from her.

“It’s in your plant.”

Well, long story short, the kids found a dead vole in our yard several weeks ago. Apparently, instead of disposing of it in the woods as directed, they deposited it into my large planter. I brought my philodendron inside for the winter, and the little vole carcass came with it … a WEEK ago. I have no idea why it didn’t rot and smell. Anyways, it’s gone now.

What does this have to do with Advent? Well, we have to be careful what we bring into our homes. So many things that seem small and harmless (like our little vole friend) can make a big stink if they are allowed to fester. On the flip side, other things (like my plant) can add beauty, freshness, and life to our homes with very little effort.

So, on the tenuous foundation of that analogy, I hereby present my list of favorite Advent traditions. We have not done ALL of them EVERY year, but I put a star by the ones that happen annually as family traditions, and the others have happened some years. And I attached links to explanations.

  1. *An Advent wreath
  2. Jesse Tree — I made my own this year (see pictures) with little round craft wood pieces. I use a children’s Bible to read the appropriate story and I mostly followed the recommendations at this link and some of the designs from the free printable Jesse tree ornaments at this link.
  3. O Antiphons and prayers like these or just sing the correct verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
  4. *Just sing lots of Christmas songs and help kids to learn the words and what they mean. Or, you could be really intentional and focus on Advent songs that have a “not yet” theme. My favorites that you don’t often hear are “Maria Walks Amid the Thorns” (great version musically; English version) and “Down in Yon Forest” (good rhythm, please don’t sing this with a plodding, heavy beat–that ruins it)
  5. *Advent calendars — I really like the ones with Scripture verses and a nativity picture on front
  6. *A nativity — we have a 5″ set from Fontanini that we received as a wedding gift. Every year, we add one or more figures as a “family gift.” So, it is growing to cover the whole mantle. Baby Jesus gets placed on it on Christmas, and from Christmas to Epiphany the 3 Wise Men travel across the house to the manger. If you like the idea of Elf on the Shelf getting into adventures at night, it’s lots of fun to invent adventures and obstacles for your Wise Men during the Christmas Season. Bonus: it’s a shorter sprint of creativity than the 25 days of elven misadventures. [Anyone else confused by the irony that the elf that watches for good behavior seems to indulge in lots of bad behavior himself at night? But I digress…]
  7. Advent penance services (aka get your butt to Confession to make your heart purty for Baby Jesus!)
  8. Celebrating feast days within Advent! We like to make a big deal of the feast days within Advent. Today, we had friends over after Mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8th) with treats and play time. Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12th) is another important one for us.
    On that note, we leave shoes out for St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th to be filled with oranges, nuts, and chocolate coins and sometimes a religious book or gift.
    I’ve always liked the St. Lucy traditions on Dec. 13th, but we have not yet done them.
  9. Straw in the mangersome easy directions — or Secret Santas if you want to focusthe good deeds to particular people, though I think the straw for Baby Jesus is perhaps a more direct link to the preparations of Advent
  10. The Christmas Novena (or St. Andrew’s Novena, though it is just called that because it starts on his feast day) — this is a POWERFUL novena; God always answers it for me in startling and beautiful ways, even if it’s not quite how I would expect.
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