But I digress. (A post about the challenges of 3-year-olds is something I need to write, too.)
At any rate, I was tempted to keep on plugging away with our schoolwork through Advent without pausing much. But as I made my plans, I felt we all needed a respite from the the daily grind. Thus, I’m cutting back on formal schoolwork for the next few weeks and will be focusing on this beautiful liturgical season. But I’m also reminding myself that I don’t have to do elaborate crafts or bake mountains of cookies to make Advent meaningful for my family.
If you’re anything like me and get all tingly with excitement at the sight of charts and lists, then check out Organized Christmas where you can download free Christmas calendars and checklists. Whatever your Advent and Christmas plans, join me this year in not making anything other than celebrating Christ a requirement.
- For the past few years we’ve made these simple handprint angels and reindeer.
- We plan on making these Baby Jesus cards for the grandparents this year.
- I’ve asked Madeline to research and choose a favorite charity to donate to out of her piggy bank savings. She’s thinking of donating to Tandy’s Babies, a pro-life organization spearheaded by my Catholic midwife that ministers to women and families faced with crisis pregnancies.
- Madeline has been asking about making a gingerbread house so I’ve decided we’ll piece together one this year, but I’m thinking we might make a gingerbread church and craft a steeple out of candy canes. We’ll see. This isn’t definite yet.
- We celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas every year on December 6th. The stockings will soon be hung above the chimney with the hope that Saint Nick will soon be there. Each year Saint Nicholas brings the girls a pair of Christmas pajamas, which they wear throughout the Advent and Christmas season. I’ve saved each pair as well and when they’re older, I plan on getting a Christmas blanket made with all of the PJs from the past. We’ll also be reading The Miracle of Saint Nicholas in honor of the saint’s feast day. Finally, to remind my children of the man behind all the magic, we always click around the St. Nicholas Center (it’s a wonderful resource with tons of craft ideas, historical information, etc.), and we usually read about the Bishop of Myra from Sister Wendy’s Book of Saints (one of our favorite saint books because of its beautiful examples of sacred art).
- We’re participating in the Advent Adventure from Holy Heroes for the second time this year and will be piecing together felt ornaments for a Jesse Tree. The program is free, and my girls really enjoy it.
- Very soon we’ll be setting up our Fontanini manger scene. Each year Gaba (my mom) buys the girls a new figure to add to the scene. I can’t say enough good things about this Nativity set. It’s durable enough for little hands; yet, the figures are realistic and beautiful. We’ll set up Mary and Joseph right away, but the Holy Family won’t be complete until later. During Advent Baby Jesus is missing from the manger and won’t appear until Christmas morning. I’ve carried this tradition from my own childhood. When the girls ask where Jesus is, I remind them we’re waiting for Him, and we have to keep searching our homes (for the figure of Jesus!) and our hearts for him (the real Him!). This reminds children of the “reason for the season.”
- We also have a baby doll crib where we add strands of yarn (to represent hay) each time one of the girls makes a sacrifice (like makes her bed without asking). The older girls are very eager to make the softest possible bed for Baby Jesus come Christmas.
- In honor of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, we’ll be coloring a picture of Our Blessed Mother.
- Our Advent/Christmas Book Basket is overflowing. Here’s a sampling of some of the books we’ll be reading and narrating during the season:
The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg
We don’t only eat those minty candy canes because they taste yummy as this Christmas tale reminds us. This book explains the origin of the candy cane from a religious perspective.
Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus! Pictures by Ken Munowitz/text by Charles L. Mee, Jr.
This book is sadly out of print, but I remember loving it as a child and now enjoy reading it to my children. Last year we acted out the book on Christmas Eve for the extended family. Madeline played the part of Mary; Daddy was Joseph; Rae was an angel; I was the narrator; and Mary Elizabeth was Baby Jesus.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here because this book is really an Epiphany tale about an old, prideful camel named Hoshmakaka who learns a lesson in humility as he carries a heavy load of gifts to the Christ Child. This book was Madeline’s favorite Christmas book last year, and she’s already started asking about it again this year. Mother tested, kid approved.
- Speaking of books, I’ll be borrowing ideas from the comprehensive Tomie de Paola Advent Literature Unit over at Serendipity. There are so many great ideas over there, but I’m forcing myself to not get too ambitious. I definitely want to make these pointsettia fairies. We’re also making angel ornaments as gifts using shells we collected on our past few beach trips. I have a vision of what they’ll look like in my head, but we’ll see how they turn out. My artistic vision is generally much more beautiful than the finished product.
- O Divine Night is another excellent resource for celebrating Advent. (So is this Waltzing Matilda link). Last year we used the Advent Alphabet over there. Each day we cut a link from a paper chain that included words associated with the season that begin with the letter from the alphabet that correspond to that particular day. Then I planned simple activities based on the words. For example, on the first day of Advent, we talked about angels and made these cute, little guys (pictured left), adapted from this craft idea.
- As always, we’ll be spending time in the kitchen getting flour on the floor, in our hair, and everywhere else (ah, the joys of baking with little sous chefs). I’ve hosted my own cookie swap in the past (here’s an article that shares tips on how to pull one off), but this year I’m just going as a guest to a new friend’s cookie swap, which is apparently an annual tradition and a wonderful event. I haven’t decided what cookies I’ll bring to share, but I do love cookie swaps because you end coming home with a stash of varied treats. I’m sure the girls and I will end up making our sugar cookies and maybe a batch of gingerbread people, too (Last year Madeline had a lot of fun clothing the edible gals and guys in gaudy garments embellished with every kind of sprinkle imaginable). Also, here’s an old article I wrote that shares simple but delicious recipes for the season.
- We’ll also be making some breakfast foods like muffins and breads (and maybe scones; you know how I can’t get enough of those things) to share with neighbors, friends, and to bring to my Mom and Dad’s since they’ll be hosting tons of family there this year.
- Last year on Finally, I saw this food craft idea to make edible candles, and Madeline and I decided to adapt it to Advent. These might make a tasty addition to your Gaudete Sunday celebration. We’re not doing them again this year. We’re going to make a wreath out of paper using toilet paper rolls just because of the onslaught of sweets during this time of year. (We have a traditional wreath, too, with candles we light at dinner each evening.)
- To counter all the ubiquitous holiday junk, I’m keeping our lunch and dinner menus healthy and light and am making lots of soups and salads. Here are a few of my favorite recipes during this time of year:
- I’m going to try to make the effort to pray a decade a day over Advent and meditate on the Joyful Mysteries with my girls. One of these days I’d like to pray a daily Rosary with the girls, but we’re not there yet. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps. I did order the 2010 Magnificat Advent Companion for my own personal reflection.
- We’ll have a fiesta in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Last year we had a party with friends that even included a pinata. We’re keeping it more simple and intimate this year, but I will be dishing out Mexican fare (my girls love my homemade guacamole). I also plan on making a light and healthy salad. Combine corn (canned corn is fine), chopped red bell peppers, diced avocado, and black beans with olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, and fresh lime juice. Serve cold or at room temperature. Delish.
- Every year on Christmas Eve the older girls make Jesus’ birthday cake with their nana. We sing “Happy Birthday” to the King of Kings and then we enjoy a slice of cake after our Christmas Eve dinner of tapas (yes, tapas. We forgo the fancy feast for a more casual affair). Leftovers of this delicious, spiced cake go wonderfully with a hot cup of coffee on Christmas morning.