Within my family growing up, we had several traditions -- namely centered on food (cookie baking) and family gatherings throughout the holidays. Christmas Day was (IS!) an open door policy with all our extended family (including 2nd/3rd cousins & families) -- and friends. If you knew of someone spending time alone during the holidays, they were welcome too. It is like a giant family reunion day every year.
Outside of attending Midnight Mass, however, we really did not focus a lot of attention on our faith. That was something that I really longed for and dh & I strive to do with our children throughout the season of Advent.
Over the years, we have incorporated the following as traditions:
Advent Wreath: The girls and I add fresh bows/decorations if needed and shop early to find beeswax candles that can make it through the season. Dependent upon what else we are doing, we do the Advent prayer and various stories/meditations/activities that I've gathered over the years - either nightly or on Sundays and one other night. It only takes us about 30 - 45 minutes.
Participating in charitable service as a family. We spend time gathering things for donation, offering our time to serve others. Sometimes that has meant cleaning; others creating food baskets, sorting for angel trees, handing out blankets/coats, etc. (We try to do service together throughout the year but somehow it takes on a special meaning during the season.)
"Secret Sacrifice": This is something that has crept in. Some choose to call it building a bed for baby Jesus. Our children look for opportunities to offer a sacrifice or give to someone else within the family... WITHOUT seeking accolades for it. For example, one may do another's chores without being asked. Maybe an older brother would offer to read or play a game with a small sibling. Another may work on holding their temper when someone made them mad... and instead work on forgiveness. Remnants of this are showing up more often throughout the year... but certainly I'd love it year 'round. I work esp. on patience and MAKING time for things that I generally feel that I can't. Somehow it works out and I know we are creating memories to treasure!
Mass on Christmas. Whether a children's Mass, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or Mass on Christmas Day - we all go.
We definitely greet St. Nick December 6th (THIS WEEK!!) I love Catholic Communications animated version.
We have done The Jesse Tree over the years. I love it as it *ties* things together well within the Old and New Testaments. This year we had to opt for other things we wanted to fit in.
"Feed the reindeers" on Christmas Eve. The kids bundle up before going to bed and scatter reindeer "food" on the lawn (a mix of oats and sparkling sugar crystals.) The effect looking out is beautiful.
We do welcome Santa in our home... and do leave him a treat as well.
Music and singing are always welcome!
P.S. and the tradition that I WISH I could break???? Being disorganized and alllllllllllllways have more stuff to do Christmas Eve than there are hours in the day!
Traditions from my family:
-baking for others- each kid (6 of us) baked something to give to his/her godparents, and something to give to someone else of his/her choice, and we delivered it in person. Helped us remember the world did not revolve around us and getting gifts!
-opening stockings on Christmas Eve, one person at a time, youngest to oldest
-decorating the tree Christmas Eve
Traditions from DH's family:
-big special breakfast Christmas morning
-gifts from Santa
What we've continued/started:
-baking for others (though I am no culinary genius, so my creations often start from a box mix)
-stockings on Christmas Eve
-Mass together (though due to the age of our kids, we do the afternoon Mass on Christmas Eve)
-decorating the tree together, usually on some weekend in early-mid December
-gathering with family, though I insist on us having at least a little time as just our core family unit before inviting people over or heading to my parents' house
-making a paper chain to count down to Christmas Day
-DH makes breakfast Christmas morning
Thanks for reminding me about the Angel Tree! We have one at our church, and I meant to take DD1 over there to pick an ornament yesterday, but I got distracted and left instead.
Neither one of our families did anything for advent, so it's nice to have ideas. My family's big thing was attending midnight Mass. There were a couple of years where we were unable to attend (we all had the flu one year!) and it really upset me. It doesn't feel like Christmas unless I attend midnight Mass!
We've already started some Christmas traditions, but I feel like they're all secular and missing the faith component. I did get Aiden the Little People's Christmas Story nativity set this year, but (of course) spend most of my time telling him to not eat baby Jesus. Maybe next year? lol
hehe..... I LOVE that set! Little ones are so "hands on" that it helps to have them be able to HOLD the various characters in the nativity story as you share it with them. Chewing Baby Jesus.... mine did that too! Wonder how much time will be spent in purgatory for that!?!? (ROFL kidding!!)
Lori - welcome to the group! My best advice is not to get too overwhelmed as certainly it can be tempting to want to do anything and everything in the excitement! (That btw is a note to self as well!) Pick one or two things that you'd like to focus on during this Advent season as a means of "preparing" to celebrate Christ in our lives! Those memories are some that you and your children will treasure!
Emily - we have to get our tree (we do a live one) soon! For some reason I decided now would be the perfect time to tear apart our living room (where the tree will go) and repaint/rearrange, etc. *sigh* Say a prayer for me! LOL I'd forgotten about Christmas breakfast! I'll have to suggest to dh he take that on! I LOVE that idea!