Written by Camille San Souci, a Catholic mother of 5 children and friend of Stella & Tide
Retailers are stocked with everything from candy canes to Christmas trees. Inboxes are screaming with the latest and greatest Black Friday deals. Businesses blast “Jingle Bells” on repeat. Neighbors are donning their homes with lights, and friends are having festive parties galore. This time of year feels like living in a Christmas snow globe, and yet the irony is that it isn’t even Christmas yet. The world has basically skipped over the Advent season, and gone straight to the holly jolly festivities.
Yet, we as Catholics are called to wait. It is tempting to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the world surrounding us, but we know that before there can be feasting, there must be a time of fasting. In the eloquent profundity of Venerable Fulton Sheen:
“Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.”
So instead, we wait.
In choosing the way of the cross, we take a backseat to the full throttle merriment for the time being and contrarily spend the four Sundays before Christmas preparing for the coming of Christ in:
- His birth at Christmas
- His presence in our lives through the Holy Eucharist
- His return at the end of time
Advent is a hopeful longing and joyful expectation of these glorious goods to come, and we must spiritually prepare through prayer, fasting, and penance so we are ready. This season, instead of beginning the celebrations early, may we all think of ways in which we can daily deny ourselves and say “fiat” to our crosses.
Yet, in the midst of the spiritual preparation of this penitential time, there are many feast days in which we can take pause, celebrate, and live liturgically. Here are some of the feast days and a few activities that my family and I like to incorporate:
All of Advent
Advent Wreath – The history of the Advent wreath is rich with symbolism, and it is a simple yet profound way to help us remain vigilant during Advent through prayer and Scripture reading.
Nativity Set – As a family, we also have a couple of Nativity sets that we place around the house. However, we are sure to leave a few key pieces out. Baby Jesus does not come until Christmas morning, of course, and the Magi appear on Epiphany, mirroring the historical timeline of the events.
One of my favorite things about the nativity set is that it can be made into a sacrificial activity for our children with The Giving Manger. Our goal as a family is to fill the crib with straw so that it is ready for Baby Jesus. Every time our kiddos do some sort of sacrifice, penance or charity, they can put a piece of straw in the manger. I honestly think this is one of the most effective activities that we do with our children in helping them focus on the real meaning of the season.
Liturgical New Year’s Eve – While this day is technically not part of Advent, but rather the night before it all begins, we make sure to mark this as the start of our year. We do a traditional style New Year’s Eve party with hors d’oeuvres, drinks, sparkling cider, and all the games. Each year, we all pick a “Saint of the Year” about which to learn, ask for intercession, and grow in friendship. At the party, we give a short recap from our year with the previous Saint.
St. Andrew, November 30 – St. Andrew’s Christmas Novena is a beautiful tradition in which the prayer below is said 15 times daily from St. Andrew’s feast day until Christmas:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother.
My family will often recite this prayer before bed or while driving in the car. If you don’t already practice a family rosary, this might be a good way to set aside time as a family to pray.
St. Nicholas, December 6 – We love to do this feast day up BIG. Over the years, our traditions have evolved as I am continually adding or tweaking things. I always make a special breakfast with a fully decked out table, and we often let our kids stay home from school and do a family activity together.
Of course, the main celebration in keeping with tradition is to set out our shoes for St. Nick. The night before we set them out, I have the kids write letters to him, making their Christmas present requests. This year, I’ve decided to add a new twist to that letter: I am also going to ask them to share what sacrifices they will make for Baby Jesus this Advent season. In the morning, the letters are replaced with chocolate coins and one gift, which I try to make religious (like a saint peg or stuffed doll), but I must admit that doesn’t always happen.
St. Ambrose, December 7 – St. Ambrose is known as the “Honey Tongued Doctor”, which is a pun on his name (honey in Latin is ambrosia) and a reference to his preaching that was said to be “sweet as honey”. Liturgical living can be kept very simple for any feast, and an easy practice for this day would be to eat something with honey.
St. Ambrose is also the patron Saint of candle makers. Therefore, any activity using candles would be appropriate. You can decorate the Christ candle (the candle in the center of the Advent wreath) or simply eat dinner by candlelight.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8 – First and foremost, this is a Holy Day of Obligation, a day in which all Catholics are morally obligated to attend Mass, so don’t forget to head over to your local parish! From our perspective, there is no better way to celebrate any feast than attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In addition, our family tries to eat “white” as much as possible on this day in symbolism of the immaculate conception. Tasty white food options abound, from powdered covered donuts at breakfast to chicken fettuccini alfredo and cauliflower at dinner.
I think it is always beneficial to discuss what this Feast day is celebrating with kiddos because it is commonly misunderstood. It is not the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb, but rather the immaculate conception of Mary in St. Anne’s womb.
St. Juan Diego, December 9, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12 – These two feast days go hand in hand, so we usually end up only celebrating one of the days. The main way we commemorate this day is to joyfully feast on Mexican cuisine, which can be very simple with tacos or quite elaborate. One year, I made a bunch of new dishes that we all ended up loving and incorporated into our weekly menu plans. Mexican street corn and homemade pico de gallo are two of our favorites!
One other fun tradition is to make Mexican hot chocolate and pile into the car to look at Christmas lights while listening to traditional Advent music. Our kids look forward to it every year.
Our Lady of Loreto, December 10 – The house of Loreto refers to Mary’s home in Nazareth - the home in which she was born and where the Annunciation occurred. On this feast, we read about the history of this Holy House and the incredible miracle in which the structure was raised from its foundation in Nazareth and moved by angels. With that spectacular event in mind, this is the perfect day to make gingerbread houses!
Our Lady Queen of Angels, December 11 – Speaking of baking, this feast day, in which we honor Mary as Queen of the Angels, is an opportunity to be in the kitchen to bake and decorate angel-shaped Christmas cookies. You can deliver them to friends and neighbors or maybe even take them to a retirement home.
Gaudete Sunday, December 12 (2021) – This feast is always celebrated on the third Sunday in Advent, so the exact date will change from year to year. The name comes from Philippians 4:4 and 5: "Gaudete in Domino semper," a Latin phrase translated as "Rejoice in the Lord always." This day marks the approximate halfway point in Advent, and it is a time of gladness in an otherwise penitential season because the hope and joy of the promised coming should never be absent in the faithful. Thus, we interrupt our daily penances with a day of feasting.
On this Sunday, the Priest wears rose colored vestments and the third Advent candle has a pink hue. The brighter color signifies joy in the midst of what is otherwise traditionally considered a somber penitential season. Therefore, it is festive to dress in pink for your “Sunday Best” that day in Mass.
St. Lucy, December 13 – St. Lucy was a virgin martyr, and there are numerous ways to celebrate her feast, many originating from Sweden. Since her name is derived from the Latin word “lux” which means “light”, our family simply turns on our Christmas lights for the first time on this date.
St. John of the Cross, December 14 – Though this may not be the most widely celebrated feast in the Advent season, there are many little ways to celebrate the “Mystical Doctor” of the Church. He was a Carmelite monk, so adding a little caramel to your diet on this day might be in order. Alternatively, you can try your hand at a traditional Spanish meal like paella to honor his home country of Spain.
As you can see, there are many feasts to celebrate during the Advent season. Living liturgically can sometimes feel daunting or overwhelming as there is a tendency to have an “all or nothing” attitude, but remember that little “nods” are just as special as grandiose ones. Pick a few feast days to recognize, and then each year, build upon them by establishing new traditions for you and your loved ones.
May this Advent season be a blessed time of spiritual preparation. In the words of an ancient Catholic chant, “Let [our] mortal flesh keep silent" and ponder nothing earthly minded, watching and waiting in hopeful patience. Through doing so, our hearts will be ready to receive Christ, our King, on Christmas morning and gladly proclaim “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!”