Catholics are great story tellers. We love to tell and hear stories that help us understand the world and our faith.
The first place most of us hear stories and learn the art of storytelling is in our families. In fact, our early faith formation begins in the family setting. At Advent, which begins this year on Dec. 1, that formation for children often is centred on the story of how Baby Jesus came into the world.
In Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis addresses the concept of faith-filled families representing the “Domestic Church.”
“The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises,” he writes. “This is true from the first page of the Bible, with Adam and Eve’s family.”
Stories about the importance of family abound in Scripture. They are examples of how families should live their faith daily in the home settings of the Domestic Church.
So how can families celebrate our Domestic Church during Advent? Keeping families focused during this sacred season can be challenging in a culture fixated on Christmas and Boxing Day. But we should not despise the secularism of this season; rather we work to make Advent special and sacred in family’s settings.
Advent is a time of waiting, of gestation, of being still. Nothing is helped by rushing through Advent to reach Christmas Day. This only brings exhaustion and sometimes an empty feeling. Advent should be experienced with intentionality, with a resolve to savour each day and each occasion as we make the pilgrimage to Christmas.
How do we do this amid the frenzied pace of the season? We start by being mindful that the experiences we share with family members will someday become the stories told, laughed at, celebrated and pondered long after we’re gone.
In the recently published One Home at A Time: Realizing and Living our Domestic Church, we offered several suggestions to make Advent a time of intentionality. Although far from exhaustive, here are some Advent family activities:
- Make an Advent wreath and each week of Advent make it the centrepiece of a family Advent service. There are many good resources available in print and on the Internet. One option is to use Scripture readings from Living with Christ. Another excellent resource is Book of Blessings published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has thoughtful prayers and prayer services suitable year round.
- Set up a crèche at the start of Advent and place the figures nearby. Each week move the figures closer, representing a pilgrimage to the stable.
- Incorporate the colours of Advent found in your Church throughout your house to adorn tables, curtains, doors or anywhere that could be improved with a splash of Advent colour.
- Make cookies as a family. The actual cookies aren’t as important as bringing everyone together to make, decorate and eat the cookies, or gift them for members of your family.
- Get involved as a family in a charity and contribute time or money to help those in need. Perhaps participate in a food drive and offer to help deliver the food through, for example, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Or reach out to someone in your community in need. Or invite someone who may be alone to your home for a family meal.
- Set aside time for prayer, reflection and, in particular, Scripture. It can be a part of grace before meals or an evening or morning prayer. Gather around the Advent wreath and create a sacred time no matter how busy this season drives you.
- When the Christmas tree is erected or the Advent wreath is put out, begin with a blessing using holy water.
- Make an Advent time capsule of rituals and memories throughout the season that can be shared in years to come.
- Visit a shut-in or someone who may be experiencing difficult times. You can bring the cookies you baked.
- Gather as a family to watch a Christmas classic and discuss it.
- Take time to honour the many feast days during Advent, such as: St. Nicolas Dec. 6, the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, St. Juan Diego Dec. 9, Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12 and St. Lucy Dec. 13, to name a few. Research the importance of these days and recount the stories of the lives of the saints.
- Create a sacred space in your home to honour those people who are not able to be with you either because they have died or are far away. Use pictures, keepsakes or other items to spark memories of them and to know they are with us on our Advent journey.
- As part of your Sunday liturgy, read and discuss the Sunday readings before going to Church.
- Sing religious Christmas carols as a family when you light the candles on the Advent wreath.
- Fast, to be in solidarity with those who struggle with hunger, and with Mary and Joseph who would have had little to eat during their trek to Bethlehem.
- Write an Advent newsletter to family members. Outline the various events taking place in your family and wish them a blessed Christmas.
- Create a Jesse tree or a Jesse mobile. The symbols on the tree should begin with Adam and include other Old Testament symbols that tell of major events leading to Joseph and Mary.
- Just as we prepare our homes for Christmas, we should ready our souls by attending the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Bake a birthday cake for Christmas Day, because it is Jesus’ birthday. A cake reminds us that it is the birth of Jesus we celebrate.
- Participate in Christmas concerts and Advent Masses as a family.
- Throughout Advent, pray the rosary.
- As you wrap presents, say a prayer to celebrate what Christmas is about and to show gratitude that Jesus came into your world and home.
Advent should be a time to celebrate the gift of family as we prepare for the arrival of the Holy Family. It needn’t be a time to be dismissive of the secular approach to Christmas. Rather, it is possible to weave the best of those traditions into our intentional and faithful Advent preparations.
With just a little bit of planning, Advent can create some incredible family memories and stories to be retold Christmas after Christmas.
-Dal Ben and Kostoff are co-authors of the Novalis publication ‘One Home at a Time: Realizing and Living Out Our Domestic Church‘