1. The Advent Wreath
Last year, I had to improvise my Advent wreath. This year, is no different. My Christmas and Advent decorations are still locked in a storage shed in a neighboring county. And although I could go get them, I'd be hard-pressed to find them. So, again - I am improvising.
But, this year, I have the power of Pinterest so I found lots of cool ideas for making my Advent wreath even more cool. Here's the front runner, so far:
Created with moss wrapped around a lampshade skeleton with a wire wreath anchored to the top, this is by far the glitzy-est Advent wreath I've ever seen. It'd be really nifty to use with the Jesse Tree Tradition....
2. A Jesse Tree
When I was a kid, we did the Jesse Tree. Each day of the month of December, leading up to Christmas Day has an Old testament story and a symbol connected with it. These stories trace the lineage and "types" of Jesus. There are books that you can get to help you design your meditations. The little chart above is one that I found on Pinterest and, although it doesn;t give all the bible verses and stories of each character, you get a pretty good idea of what the plan is.
I always thought it was a cool way to trace Salvation History and the Messianic prophecies through the Jewish people to Jesus. It gave me a sense of the connectedness of God's promises to us that He would save us from our sins. Sadly, it is not a tradition that I carried on with my own children. But the Advent Wreath above gave me some ideas about combining the two observances.
3. The Advent Family Activity Calendar
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has put out a resource calendar for families who want to give back to the community and deepen their faith during the Advent season. This calendar includes an activity for each day of Advent and a companion calendar takes you through the Christmas Season. With reflections on the scripture as well as suggestions for works of mercy on each, you can get your family fully involved in making room for Jesus.
You can find both calendars here.
4. Do Some Extra Devotional Prayer
Seriously, there are SO many good Advent books out, but I'll suggest the two that my friends at CatholicMom.com are giving away this week: Lisa Hendey's "O Radiant Dawn" and Sarah Reinhard's "Welcome, Baby Jesus".
These ladies are wonderful writers and have crafted family-friendly, easy to use resources to help you and your family spend just a few minutes in prayer together through this busy month.
Click here to go to CatholicMom.com to enter!
I also highly recommend the Magnificat Advent Companion. You can get it in print, on your Kindle or as an app in the iTunes Store. I reviewed the app last year, and plan to buy it again this year. It's easy to use and handy to carry around on your phone or device.
5. Learn Some New Songs
Fr. Dwight Longenecker had a "mega-post" today titled "10 Reasons Why Catholics Should Sing Good Hymns". Fr. Longenecker walks through 10 reasons (as the title suggests) why hymns are crucial to the spiritual life. And not just any hymns, but good ones. He not only explains what constitutes a good hymn, but offers suggestions and provides videos of good examples.
And over at The Beautiful Music Challenge last week I rolled out "10 Hymns You Should Know: Advent and Christmas Hymns." Over the next five weeks we'll be exploring ten hymns and carols for Advent and Christmas: where they came from, what they mean and how to sing them. At the end of Advent, you be all set to sing carols at Mass or at home for all of the 12 Days of Christmas. If you would like to join the fun, you can link up here. But, honestly, we need a better example of "O Come, Divine Messiah". If you have one (that I am legally allowed to use!) send it on over!
Below is a version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in Latin by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. This is one of my favorite pieces for Advent, but sadly, it's been so long since I've gotten to sing it that I have forgotten many of the tricky parts that make it awesome. I sight read it a few weeks ago and it was a very humbling experience. Take a listen.