Upon converting to Catholicism in 1996, one of my favorite parts of my new faith was the season of Advent which, like Lent is a penitential season involving fasting, prayer and alms-giving, in preparation for Christmas. We tend not to think of advent as a penitential season as we are surrounded with Christmas. In actuality, Christmas historically and around the world is celebrated for 12 days following Christmas day, up to Epiphany. When I home-schooled our four children we incorporated both traditions. We began our time of preparation on the first Sunday of Advent and worked on activities which brought our focus to Christ. We spent the weeks before Christmas practicing fasting, prayer and alms-giving in many ways.
I made a large pocket Advent calendar to organize our activities, to track our work and to help the children count down to Christmas. I made it reusable from year to year. Here’s how I made it. You’ll need:
a blue poster board (the sturdy foam core would be very useful). Blue is the color of Advent and of Our Lady.
letter sized envelopes
blue and pink marker
First, cut 22 envelopes in half to make 44 pockets. Advent varies each year on the number of days. Make enough pockets for the maximum number of days advent will last; 28 days, plus the 12 days following advent taking you up to Epiphany, which also varies.
Glue your envelopes to the poster board in 6 rows of 7 and an eighth row of 2.
Make a set of day and date labels from sticky notes for your calendar. Each year you will make a new set of labels depending upon the number of days so sticky notes can be removed and thrown away after each year.
Begin your calendar with the first Sunday of Advent which this year is Sunday, December 2. Label the date and and write ‘day 1’ (or if your class is learning to count backwards number it 23 (for 23 days this year). Continue labeling each sticky note with date and day of advent. Attach to envelopes.
Cut the index cards in half.
Write in the special days in Advent. (See Advent Activity Planner for special activities on these days and Advent wreath-making guide for wreath activities. Some days I have written articles about individually as there is so many special activities that you can do). Remind children or students that they are practicing Prayer, Fasting and Alms giving (sharing) with these activities.
These are ways you will practice the Prayer part of Advent.
Dec. 2 first Sunday of Advent. Draw one candle as you will light one candle.
Dec. 6 Feast of Saint Nicholas
Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception ( a holy day)
Dec. 9 Second Sunday of Advent (Gaudette or Joy Sunday – rose colored candle)
Dec. 12 Feast of St. Lucia
Dec. 13 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dec. 16 Third Sunday of Advent
Dec. 17 Begin the ‘O Antiphons’
Dec. 23 Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dec. 24 Christmas Eve
Dec. 25 Feast of Christmas
Dec. 26 Boxing Day
Dec. 27 Feast of the Holy Innocents
Dec. 28 Feast of St. Stephen
Dec. 30 First Sunday of Christmas
Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve
Jan. 1 New Year’s Day
Jan. 6 Epiphany
Fill in the calendar with events that your family, church and school will do; here are some examples that we have done. Write an activity on each card. Try to do something on each day. Place cards in the pocket for the day. Here are ways to practice alms-giving- giving of your time, talent and treasure and the fasting (giving up something you like or play time for someone else; we don’t just fast from food.)
Go Christmas Caroling
Visit nursing home (alms-giving- giving of your time)
Make Christmas ornaments
Write Christmas cards
Write Christmas letter
Go cut down tree (for years, we trudged out into the beautiful Michigan woods to chop down a tree at night; often the snow was falling).
Deliver food baskets
Bring Giving Tree gift to church
Shovel for elderly neighbor
Make Grandparent gifts
Go on a light tour in your PJs
family Christmas party
Children’s Christmas mass
Christmas play at school
Go to see Christmas play or ballet (Nutcracker).
Santa’s Breakfast at school
Help decorate church
Visit someone in the hospital
Deliver Christmas gifts to shelter.
Bring cookies to neighbors (We did this in our trailer park for many years; when we moved away our neighbors said how much that meant to them.)
Put a paper ornament in pocket to color for each day of your Jesse Tree. This is part of the devotion and prayer and Bible reading of Advent. (see instructions in my article).