I realize that I am writing this in October. A lot of people think that we shouldn’t think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. I, however, feel that preparing for Advent is such an important step in making the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable.
There is nothing worse than getting to December 15th and realizing that you have a million things to do, make, and buy. As a Catholic, I absolutely believe that Christmas should be less about all the to-dos and to-buys, and more about the prayers, sacrifices, and getting ourselves ready for the coming of Christ. Last year on Instagram I used a hashtag that I think I will bring back this year and that was #KeepingChristInChristmas.
I have some considerations to preparing for Advent for everyone; the crafters, the decorators, the liturgical livers, etc. Please don’t think that I believe you should do all the things I mention, but some of us need reminders, and… I am some of us. I need ALL of the reminders.
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First, the Spirit of Advent
Do I know where my Advent Wreath is and do I have the candles for it?
Every year I forget about the Advent candles. Last year was only the second Advent (of 6!) that my husband and I actually used an Advent wreath with candles. I always forget to buy them. Actually in all honesty, last year I think I did forget to buy them, but my mom had extras.
2. Have I decided which Advent devotional or spiritual reading to do this season?
I honestly cannot recommend From Advent to Epiphany by Fr. Patrick Troadec more. It is so wonderfully written. I have used it two Advents in a row and I will be reading it again this year. It has a passage from the daily reading, a mini-lesson as well, followed by a saint quote and/or prayer, and then 2-4 resolutions to better put God’s word into practice. It is literally everything I want and need in a devotional.
For More Advent Devotional Recommendations read this post.
3. Do I have a Nativity Scene? When do I want to put it out? Will I put the entire Nativity Scene out all at once or will I put it out piece-by-piece?
We have an official Nativity Scene (Given to me by my dad) and the Fisher Price one (I highly recommend it if you have small children). We let the kids play with the Fisher Price Nativity Scene starting at the beginning of Advent and bring the official one out piece-by-piece.
4. Will you be celebrating any saint’s feast days during Advent?
This is one of my favorite parts of preparing for Advent. I love looking at the liturgical calendar and picking a handful of saints/feast days that are special to my family and finding activities to do with my children. I will expand on the activities we do for each of the saints that celebrate at the end of the post.
5. Will you be doing the Jesse Tree? The Jesse Tree is using stories from the bible to show God’s Divine Providence in the coming of Christ Jesus.
We learned so much about Christ and the bible by doing the Jesse Tree last year. It was a great experience for my family. That being said, I wish I had prepared all of the ornaments for it before Advent started because I embroidered 24 ornaments, but I only finished 19 in time. If you are just starting out and aren’t super crafty or you don’t have too much time. I would suggest printing off the ornaments that your kids can color and the devotional readings. The Catholic Sprouts website has a ton of information and resources about it if you want to learn more. Last year I used The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Lambert Smith and it was very insightful.
6. Which Christmas and winter Children’s books do you have? Do you want to expand your library? Are those books already accessible for your children or will you give them out in a special way?
We put out all of our winter books at the beginning of Advent and save our special books for the feast days they correspond with. For example, we have books (linked at the bottom of the post) on St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Immaculate Conception, etc. I know of other families that wrap their books and let their children open one every day of Advent.
Secondly, Preparing the Home for Advent
What decorations do you usually use? Do you want to use them again this year?
When do you want to put the decorations out?
The stores want us to decorate for Christmas starting November 1st and although I do think that is overkill, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to plan our decorations and get them prepped and ready for when it is time. If I’m being completely honest, other than blankets, kitchen towels, table clothes and a wreath, we don’t actually do Christmas decorations. Most families I know wait until after Thanksgiving like mine or some even as late as Christmas Eve. There are no rules, so do what feels right.
3. Will your family use a Christmas tree? Real or artificial? When will you put it up? At the beginning of Advent (most likely not if you’re using a real tree), a week before, or Christmas Eve?
There is no wrong answer. Last year we used our Jesse Tree as our Christmas tree and I got that for $5 at 5 Below. The year before that we weren’t going to have a tree because we were in the middle of moving, but my Mother-in-law surprised us with a real tree a few days before Christmas.
4. Are you going to go through a toy purge before Christmas?
This is such a great idea and so helpful to keep the clutter down. I do find it easier to do this toy purge well before Advent because that is not my focus once it starts.
5. Can you get your home to a place where once Advent starts you can really prepare it for Christ?
What I mean by this is, can you declutter and deep clean your home so that once Advent begins all you need to focus on is keeping a peaceful, spirit of anticipation without the stress of needing to do all the cleaning? Lindsay Murray from The Modern Lady Podcast has a very in-depth 2022 Pre-Advent Clean-Up Check List in her stories that you should definitely check out on her Instagram page @lindsayhomemaker. If you listen to her podcast you’ll realize she knows a thing or two about all things homemaking and cleaning.
Thirdly, getting the family ready for Advent.
Will your family be doing any sacrifices together?
We abstain from meat on Fridays. Usually we give up sweets, except on our predetermined feast days and Sundays. One year I made a little cardboard bed for Jesus and through Advent my kids would add a piece of yarn to it every time they made a sacrifice or were especially kind and charitable to their siblings. It was a really great experience for us all.
2. Will you be doing Christmas cards? If so, do you already have the pictures and supplies you need? Do you need to schedule a day to take the photos? When would you like to have them mailed by?
3. Does your family use an Advent Calendar? Are you going to make it or are you wanting to buy one?
The Illustrated Liturgical Living Calendar by Jeremiah and Michaela Harrison is absolutely breathtaking. The Sophia Institute has them available on their website and you should definitely check them out if you want some truly beautiful artwork that doubles as an Advent Calendar.
4. Is your family going to be booked solid with activities, parties, and traveling or will you try to keep a more low-key Advent season?
This question holds no judgement, but is more of a means for reflection. Do you find yourself stressed out because every single day of Advent you have something going on? If so, I recommend reading Sterling Jaquith’s book Be Merry. She goes through how to manage your expectations and how it is okay to cancel all of your Advent engagements and spend that time truly uniting with Christ and preparing yourself and your family for His coming.
5. Do you have family traditions regarding outings or activities?
My husband and I met ice skating on December 16th 2012. Every year that I am not too pregnant, we go ice skating on our anniversary. We also live in an area that has a beautiful winter drive-thru lights display that we like to go to on December 13th, which is St. Lucy’s Feast Day. St. Lucy’s name means light and through tradition has become the patroness of light and sight.
Fourthly, for the crafters and bakers,
What crafts do you enjoy doing?
I try to keep it simple and usually I will reserve the crafts for the feast days that we celebrate so that I don’t get too overwhelmed.
2. Are you going to make any homemade gifts for Christmas?
Sewing, embroidering, candle-making, even baking takes time and planning. If you are planning on making your kids or loved ones something for Christmas, I suggest thinking about it now. Getting the supplies, figuring out how long it will take, and when it needs to be done by will make your life so much easier. If you enjoy simple homemade diy gifts you should check out athomeontheprairie.com. I have been following Elizabeth for years now and she has a lot of really nice tutorials on the homemade crafts she makes with her children.
3. Do you have certain cookies or cakes that you make for the holidays? Are the ingredients easy to find? Do you have all of the bakeware you will need?
4. Is there a cookie exchange you’re planning on attending? Do you have a recipe for it yet?
5. Is there prep work you can do now that will help make the project less daunting 2 months from now?
Lastly, the gift givers,
Now I am not a shopping in July kind of person because with four small children I know the gifts would be opened, lost, or damaged by the time December came.
How many people are you planning on buying gifts for?
How much money can you spend on these gifts?
It’s right around October/November that my husband and I get together and decide who we will be buying gifts for and how much money to spend on each gift. There have been some years that the budget was tight. We had to decide how much money we could spare. Then we had to make the hard choices of who was getting gifts and how much we could spend on each person. One year we had like 20 family members and could only spend $5 each. I do think it is important to be on the same page with whomever you share your finances with.
3. Do you have any ideas on what to get?
4. Have you thought about gifts that don’t add to the receiver’s clutter?
Some families are more sensitive about this than others. I have four small children and I am up to my eyeballs in toys. Try and think of experiences or consumables to give the kids. I know that if my kids were given museum passes, zoo tickets, or other activities like that we would be blown away. Some consumables to keep in mind are modeling clay, play-doh, paint, coloring supplies, activity books, etc. Catholic Family Crate has AMAZING activities, subscription boxes, and Catholic learning tools that would also be greatly appreciated as well.
5. Have you looked into supporting any small business owners for gifts?
I follow dozens of small business owners, a lot of them are Catholic, and I love buying products from them because they are great quality and I know I am contributing to the needs of families around me.
If you are looking for some ideas for moms in your life you should check out my post on Great Books for Catholic Moms.
I briefly I want to let you know what I do on the feast days we celebrate to hopefully give you some inspiration on better preparing your Advent.
St. Andrew (November 30th)- We start the 25 day St. Andrew Novena on this day. I like to have little chaplets made for each of my family members and here is a tutorial on how to make them. Here is a post on what we do to Celebrate St. Andrew’s Feast Day. I like to use this St. Andrew coloring sheet from Catholic Playground.
St. Nicholas (December 6th)- Our kids set out their shoes by the fire place the night before. In or next to their shoes, they each get an orange, chocolate coins, a candy cane, a St. Nicholas book, and something warm and snuggly they need. We do a St. Nicholas coloring sheet while I read the new books. Read more about the books, activities, crafts, and other resources we use to Celebrate St. Nicholas’ Feast Day.
Immaculate Conception (December 8th)- We definitely go to Mass because this is a Holy day of Obligation. I usually make very simple white cupcakes with white frosting to symbolize our Lady’s purity and I read this book to the kids. The kids receive this book after Mass.
Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th)- I found an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle at Dollar Tree last year, so we light this candle during our family prayers in the evening before bedtime and read this book. We also eat tacos and do a coloring sheet as well.
St. Lucy (December 13th)- St. Lucy is one of my favorite female saints. Every year on her feast day we go to the Lights on the Lake. My daughter dresses up in a white dress with a candle wreath crown and she serves us cinnamon rolls. We read our St. Lucy book, we color a picture, and we sing Santa Lucia.
St. Thomas (December 21st)- We celebrate St. Thomas’ feast day at my mom’s house because my nephew and brother-in-law are both Thomas. My mom makes everyone dinner, we color another coloring page by Catholic Playground, and we read about St. Thomas.
My own Preparation for Advent
In preparing for Advent I like to gather all of my supplies for each feast day. I make sure I have the ingredients. The coloring pages are printed out ahead of time. I have all of the books, and I store them in a place that I can easily find them. Generally, this makes my life so much easier and less stressful.
I want my Advent to be a calm, peaceful time of anticipation. This is always my goal. Some years this works and some years it definitely doesn’t.
If you have any other considerations for preparing your Advent to be less stressful leave a comment below. I would love to know what I may have missed.