Celebrating Advent

Family Activities and Devotions for Celebrating Advent

Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, should be a time for families to come together in prayer and devotion. In our hectic modern world, however, it is easy to get distracted, and the Christmas music on the radio and decorations in the stores tend to increase our anxiety. No wonder so many people are tired of Christmas by the time Christmas Day finally arrives!

The world may move too fast, but we can slow down. The following activities and devotions can aid us in celebrating Advent as it is meant to be celebrated. And then, when Christmas arrives, we can greet Christ with joy.

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Advent is called a "little Lent," because, like Lent, it is a time of repentance. While fasting during Advent used to be universal, most Western Christians today treat Advent as an early part of the Christmas season. Eastern Rite Catholics (and the Eastern Orthodox), however, continue to celebrate Advent with the Philip's Fast, named after the Apostle Philip. Find out more about this tradition, and consider taking part—even if only for one day each week.

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An Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
An Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

The Advent wreath is a popular Advent custom that originated in 16th-century Germany. It consists of four candles (three purple and one rose), surrounded by evergreen branches. One purple candle is lit the first week, two the second, two purple and one rose the third, and finally all four in the last week of Advent. The light of the candles signifies the light of Christ, Who will come into the world at Christmas. The following links discuss the history and practice of the Advent wreath.

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The 2007 Christmas Tree in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
The 2007 Christmas Tree in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Many people put up their Christmas trees immediately after Thanksgiving, which roughly coincides with the beginning of Advent. But once the tree goes up, we tend to switch into Christmas mode. Traditionally, Catholics waited until Advent was almost over before putting up the Christmas tree and other Christmas decorations. While it's hard to wait until Christmas Eve these days, putting the tree up later, and leaving it up at least through the Twelve Days of Christmas, helps to increase our sense of expectation in Advent and remind us that Christmas doesn't end on Christmas Day.

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Saint Andrew Mosaic, Basilica of Sant Vitale
Clipeus with St Andrew's image, mosaic, intrados of the arch at the entrance to the presbytery, Basilica of San Vitale (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1996), Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna. Italy, 6th century. De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

While a novena is normally a nine-day prayer, the term is sometimes used for any prayer that is repeated over a series of days. This prayer is often called the "Christmas Novena" or the "Christmas Anticipation Prayer," because it is prayed 15 times every day from the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (November 30) until Christmas. The First Sunday of Advent is the Sunday closest to the Feast of Saint Andrew.

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The Gospels on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
The Gospels are displayed on the coffin of Pope John Paul II, May 1, 2011. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

If the Advent wreath is part of your Advent practice already, why not supplement it with a daily Advent reading from Scripture? For each day of the year, the Church provides (in addition to the readings for Mass that day) a reading from the Bible that illustrates the theme of the particular celebration on that day or of the liturgical season that the day falls in. All of the readings for Advent come from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Isaiah, who, more clearly than any other prophet, foretold the coming of Christ.

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Girls looking at Christmas presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve. Klaus Vedfeldt/Getty Images

We tend to think of Christmas Eve as just an early start on Christmas Day, but it is actually the final day of Advent, and traditionally it has been observed through customs that bring our Advent preparations to a close. More »

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Other Advent Resources

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church, and the Advent season features a number of important feasts, including a holy day of obligation. Learn more about the liturgical calendar for Advent in the links below.