It may be, as you read this, that you get the impression I am repeating myself (if you were around here last year, and have a very good memory). There’s a reason for that, and it’s called tradition.
There is something wonderful about growing up with an annual cycle of practices which grow ever more familiar over the years and make one’s Faith a part of who one is…
I have written before about how important it is to develop a truly Catholic identity in our kids if we want them to keep the Faith. Celebrating the seasons of the Church’s year is a great way to do this, and Advent is a really good time to start – because it is the start of the Church’s year. So we always make a point of celebrating Advent as distinct from Christmas. To the scandal of our friends, neighbours and the rest of the world – we don’t put up our decorations or Christmas tree till the night of Christmas Eve.
In the meantime, we celebrate Advent: the preparation for Our Lord’s coming. We have a number of traditions that reinforce this.
The most obvious is the Advent wreath: our Advent always starts with an expedition to cut holly for the wreath, and having done this all their lives, the kids now see this as an essential part of the preparation for Christmas. The holly is then wound into a wire frame I made years ago (slightly squashed now!) which also has four holders for candles built into it: the three purple and one pink candle that are traditional for an Advent wreath.
When out looking for holly, we also collect a small branch of a tree, with plenty of twigs on it. This will be our Jesse tree. On our return, we climb into the loft and seek out a bag which contains out Advent calendars. Rather than buy new ones every year, we have collected four (one for each kid) many years ago, and they are now old family friends!
So at prayer time each evening, we have a reading about a character from the Old Testament, and his (or her) emblem is hung on the Jesse tree while we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel. We follow that with the opening collect from the appropriate Sunday Mass (Extraordinary Form: wonderful prayers). That is simply because they were the prayers my parents always used: I didn’t know their source till I asked my mother, but for me (and now for the rest of my family) they are an essential part of the ritual.
Then we say our usual bedtime prayers around the wreath. Then the kids open the window in their Advent calendar. Finally we sing the Advent hymn to Our Lady, the Alma Redemptoris Mater.
And because we have followed this routine – or to be more accurate, ritual – every year since Antonia, our eldest was 4 or 5 (and she’s now nearly 21), it is simply how Advent is; and now that Ant and Bernie are away at University, that’s what they do every evening, too (we even had to send their Advent calendars to them!)
So that’s the challenge for this week: what Advent rituals do you want to establish for your kids? Put them in place, repeat them every year for 10 years or more – and they will be an indelible part of your kids’ identity!