Advent is such a beautiful, rich liturgical season! I love when my children light the candles of the Advent wreath and hang Jesse Tree symbols while retelling Old Testament stories that point to the promised Messiah. Each new week I place a different card in the center of our wreath as a visual reminder: “wake up!” “prepare”… Isn’t that what this precious season is about?
Yes, but in our commercially driven society, we often get the wrong message about preparing for Christmas. As Catholic moms, we have to be very intentional to keep our family’s focus on Christ and his birth. Don’t get me wrong. I love the lights, ribbons, music, and aromas that excite our senses this time of year. I love Christmas cookies baked and shared by family and neighbors. I love the merry moments of food, wine and fellowship with friends. And, yes, I love the looks on the faces of my children (no matter how old) when they first notice the shiny paper and bows of wrapped presents beneath our tree. With all of these delightful traditions, I find myself fighting to maintain the sacredness of the season for myself and my family.
As one way to help combat the secularization of the season, when my oldest boys were quite young, we established a family tradition that has helped to keep us focused. At the beginning of Advent I ask my children these questions: Whose birthday we will be celebrating? What do you think Jesus wants for His birthday? (Of course, the answer is that he wants our hearts)! and how can we give Jesus what he really wants?
Well, this is when we bring out the colored paper and scissors, and start cutting out lots and lots of hearts. We then make a list of what we could write on our hearts to show Jesus our love. We use phrases like these: obey parents, share toys, take a prayer time, say a Rosary, offer to do an extra chore, give away something I want for myself, offer up a sacrifice, or be kind when I don’t feel like it. I staple our list onto a gift bag, which we fill with the paper hearts. Putting the list on the side of the bag gives ideas to the children, and during Advent, they can write what they choose to do on a heart if they like. Next, each child picks out a box, wraps it in Christmas paper, and finishes it with a gift tag, “to: Jesus, from….” We leave an opening in the top of each box, so that they can put in their hearts, their presents to Jesus with their acts of love.
Throughout Advent the kids get excited to put a heart into their gift boxes when they make an extra sacrifice, prayer, or act of kindness. Then, on Christmas morning, before any one of us opens a single gift, we take our presents to the manger. We read the Christmas story and then sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Next, one at a time, each child carries the box with their hearts and places it before the Christ child. Lastly, knowing Jesus loves us so much that he wants us to get presents on his own birthday, we take time to open presents one by one. Yes, the kids are more excited about their new toys and goodies than anything else, but this simple tradition has been a blessed way for our family to remember the most important gift we can give this season – to give our very selves to the One who gave himself for us!!