Advent has always been a season that puzzled me, especially when it came time to create my new little family with my husband. Lent has always been so clear to me because it involves serious contemplation and structure. The challenge with Advent is being able to make time for happy contemplation, while distinguishing the spiritual and material aspects of the season.
When I spent my first Christmas with my husband, I had no idea what kind of traditions I wanted to create. I did want to keep a few from my own family, but I had every chance to build something of my own. I wanted to incorporate details that would leave lasting impressions on my children as they grew up. But I also wanted these details to shape how we interacted with one another and the Church as we developed as a family.
It's been a work in progress, especially with a toddler who doesn’t even know what Advent is, let alone Santa Claus. Last year was the first time went spent Advent and Christmas away from family, so we haven’t had much time to experiment. I wanted to share a few of the thoughts I put into my Advent planning this year.
Personal prayer time
It’s a new liturgical year, which means it is a time for me to approach God’s mercy once again and examine my relationship with him in a deeper way. Primarily, I view Advent as a time for me to consider God’s will for me and to do so with patience, since this is the time of waiting. How does he want to shape my heart this year? What sufferings and challenges can I accept? What new efforts can I make in order to be open to his voice? This is the most important part, not only because it nurtures my soul, but also because I want Christ to make me into a better wife and mother for my family.
A celebration with my spouse
When it comes to my husband, I want to be intentional about creating moments for the both of us, especially since we have already seen how life sweeps us in all directions. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is by putting extra care into our lives during Advent. I incorporate more comfort food into our menu and buy little Christmas decorations to cozy up the house. After our baby goes to bed, I’ll surprise my husband with a batch of cookies and we eat them in front of a movie. It may seem like nothing, but after the general chaos, it really holds so much value. I use these goals to draw myself out of my crazy Christmas plans for everyone else to show my husband he is the most important person at the end of my day.
Together, we are still figuring out Advent as a couple and as a family. For now, we both look forward to each Sunday, where my husband lights the Advent candles before dinner. Even that simple act makes our prayer more meaningful and draws us both into that time together. Whenever we talk about building on this, we consider the best memories from our childhoods and remember details that highlighted past seasons.
For him, it was revisiting the family Advent calendar, especially when it yielded chocolate. For me, it was setting up the nativity scene, with the exception of the baby Jesus--who was usually hidden in someone’s sock drawer until Christmas Eve.
One of the best things about Advent is its abundance of feast days. Even if you cannot observe each one, they provide ample opportunity for pre-Christmas celebrations. If your family has cultural ties to certain feast days like Our Lady of Guadalupe or St. Lucy, it can make this time extra special. For me, this was usually the time when our parish would come together for a celebration. Depending on your region, many parishes plan events around these feasts. This is a perfect time to be involved in the Church community. For our family, I know it will be worth the effort to experience the special Masses and practice the traditions attached. Our plan is to learn about one feast day each year and to incorporate our favorites as our family grows.
The best advice I can give for this season is start small and simple. These traditions are supposed to hold special meaning for the new family you make with your husband. They are there to provide the comfort of familiarity and togetherness. Most importantly, they are there to point each member’s hearts towards Christ. You don’t have to do everything. Even one small thing means everything if it is rooted in Advent graces.
This is the very thing we want to build on as our family grows; just as the joy and anticipation of Christmas grows with each flame that is added to the Advent wreath.