The celebration of Advent took on a whole new level of seriousness and meaning for me a few years after I became a father, as my kids reached the age where they could understand what was going on around them. The observation of these days, the colder weather, and the early darkness encouraged a slowing down in my family’s life, and conspired to create tender, quiet evenings.
When my kids were still little, just around the time they had started to walk and talk, we began our Advent tradition. Each evening we’d send the kids off to their bedrooms, then silently stroll through the house, turning off each and every light, eliminating anything that could steal away their attention.
We’d light candles of various sizes, colors, and brightness throughout our living room, placed at different heights on tables, shelves and the mantle. (With each successive week of Advent, we’d light more candles until the room became literally bathed in candlelight by Christmas Eve.) I’d then go to my kids’ bedrooms, carrying only a single candle. I’d knock—making sure they had also turned off the lights in their room—and enter, the candlelight flickering before me.
I’d ask the kids what time of year it was, and if they’d like to come with me tonight, to watch and wait for Jesus. They’d walk quietly, all smiles, blankets and stuffed animals in tow, to our living room, lit now by candlelight. Together we’d light the appropriate candles on our Advent wreath, employing a little booklet for prayers and reflection. (As the kids grew older, we’d rotate in new booklets with age-appropriate reflections.)
Following the Advent wreath, we’d read a Christmas-themed book together, snuggling into one another on our couch. We’d end with a trip over to where the Advent calendar was displayed, removing this day’s little cardboard book from the calendar and reading aloud one small segment of the Christmas story—by Christmas Eve, we had read the entire story together.
We’d sing a verse from Silent Night, Away in a Manger, O Come All Ye Faithful, or another favorite Christmas carol. The evening would end with the blowing out of all of the candles (perhaps my children’s favorite part of the whole evening!), saving one to provide just enough light to lead the kids back to their rooms, kiss them good night, and tuck them in.
What I have always cherished about this nightly ritual was how it cultivated a sense of quiet, a sense of peace in our household, and drew us all together by the low-tech simplicity of it all. It made our home a warm and loving place. By the time we would finish, and the kids would be tucked away in their beds, the silence throughout our home would have become the best kind of silence inside of me as well—a serenity I so rarely experience, and a kindness, a tenderness toward all of life. I hope it has done the same for my children.
At Home with Our Faith is Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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