Tis the season we all come together around a beautifully lit tree to pray before a nativity scene. Some of us even have a family Advent wreath, sing Christmas carols and more. But it is our unique family traditions that truly imprint the magic and beauty of the season on our hearts. Our instructors share some of their treasures: live nativities, ornament exchanges, old fashioned pictures, Jesus’ stocking, Christmas book a day, and more. All of these make their Christmas season a time apart from time, a moment that will remain with them forever. They invite you to start your own traditions too!
When we moved to the country side in Burgundy, France, we were welcomed by Fr. Joseph the good Pastor of St Martin’s parish and longtime friend of Christine’s family. Fr. Joseph was not overly excited when we offered to play a Live Nativity during the Christmas midnight Mass’ vigils with the children of the Catechism classes. He reluctantly accepted on account of his love for Christine’s family. On that first vigil, our farmer neighbor proudly brought a tiny newborn lamb for the Nativity scene, and when it started to bleat in the Church, we thought Fr. Joseph would have a heart attack! It was a beautiful vigil; the Church was packed. Our second daughter who was only 3 ½, was the angel above the manger. She literally fell asleep from her stand during the play! That first year was such a success that it became a popular tradition for the whole region.
– Christian and Christine
Secret Ornament Exchange
The Saturday after Thanksgiving the whole family travels to Estes Park, Colorado, to take a family old time picture and then do a “secret” ornament exchange. We all draw a name of a person in the family and go to the Christmas store in Estes Park to buy an ornament relating to that person. We are all in the store trying to buy it secretly, which creates a lot of excitement and fun. We then all share a meal and open one ornament at a time and try to guess who it belongs too.
– Deano and Karen
Jesus’ Stocking & More
We put an Advent wreath front and center on our kitchen table along with music for O Come Emmanuel. We sing O Come Emmanuel at dinner time and light the Advent wreath. We always decorate the Christmas tree together as a family and the children have rotating jobs each year – putting the angel on the tree, putting Jesus in the manger, Advent calendar, etc.. We go to Christmas Eve Mass together. We read from the bible the story of the Nativity before we open presents on Christmas morning. We have a Jesus stocking hung with all of ours. During Advent we write notes to Jesus about someone or something we are grateful for and/or had been a light of Christ and put them in His stocking – on Christmas morning we take the notes out and read them out loud. Our second child is a Christmas baby, so we make sure her day is special as we celebrate her birth with Jesus’ birth. Our birthday girl chooses what she wants for dinner.
– Samantha and Glenn
Christmas Book a Day, Advent and Great Food
Starting on the first day of Advent we do a “Christmas book a day” in a cloth sack with the number of the day on each sack leading up to Christmas. Each day a different child gets to find it and open it, read it during our read aloud time. On Christmas Eve, Grandpa gets the final book and reads it to all of us before going to Midnight Mass. We reuse many of the books, new ones are collected throughout the year and older ones are passed along to others. During the 2nd weekend of Advent we go up to Northern Colorado to get our Christmas tree and have brunch. Brian spends the next few days putting on thousands of lights on a 6′ tree so that it literally blazes. Ornaments go up on the tree starting after the fourth Sunday of Advent as we near the birth of Christ.
We don’t have TV or movies in the living room during Advent. We play only Christmas music or have periods of quiet for sitting by the tree in candlelight, reading stories, etc. We try to slow down and reflect during the busyness of the season. Since our wedding we have been collecting the annual Swarovski crystal star each year to put on our tree. Those go on the top portion (for a starry night) for our “outdoor” tree – all of the ornaments have to do with hiking, camping, something from our many adventures we take as a family and they go under the stars.
For our family Christmas prayers, we use “Brother Francis Advent prayer/reflection” with the kids each morning. The Advent wreath lit each night with a Christmas song and prayer Jesse Tree prayer/ornament and a Nativity advent calendar that gets opened by each kiddo on their day. We use the Advent wreath prayers from Dynamic Catholic, Word on Fire or Advent Reflections each night
Before Thanksgiving and again before Christmas, I make vats of a homemade cranberry sauce/chutney recipe that has been passed down along my mom’s side of the family. They were all from New England. We jar it and give it as gifts. Sorry this recipe doesn’t get shared! On Christmas Eve, Brian makes his family’s Gumbo (passed down from his grandfather on his dad’s side). Biscuits and chocolate gravy (yes and it is delish!), sausage and peppers sautéed in wine, grits, eggs and broiled grapefruit with rum for Christmas morning. Food is central to any holiday in our household – and wine!
– Kimberly and Brian
St Nicholas, St. Lucy, and Christmas Eve
For Advent, we have an Advent wreath that is central on our dining room table that we light at dinner and sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as we light it. We also put up an Advent tree on the first day of Advent – it’s our Christmas tree but decorated simply with purple lights and bulbs. We use this also as our Jesse Tree and this year we’ve begun doing the Jesse Tree readings with a family Rosary every evening after dinner. We set out our creche minus baby Jesus and the wisemen to remind us why we are preparing. We also celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day by putting out our shoes for chocolate coins and small gifts and watch the CCC St. Nicholas movie.
We are planning this year to drive around to look at lights (which we usually try to wait until as close to Christmas as possible) on December 13th, the feast of St. Lucy who is the patroness of light. This year, we are planning to have one of our daughters dress up as St. Lucy and bring sweet rolls to everyone in the morning of her feast day.
We have a gift giving Sunday at our parish and so we take the kids out usually that weekend to pick out a couple toys to wrap and bring up to the altar during the Sunday. Also, we purge beforehand – having the kids get rid of any toys that are broken or missing pieces, and then choosing toys they would like to donate to kids in need.
On Christmas Eve, we put on Christmas music, take the Advent tree decorations down and set up everything in preparation for Christmas. We have a Polish Wigilia feast on Christmas Eve for dinner which includes seafood and lots of carbs. We usually go to morning Mass, but have occasionally attended Midnight Mass. Before gifts are opened, we have the kids set out baby Jesus to complete the creche. We give 3 gifts per child to represent the gifts of the Magi.
We always make cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast (I use The Pioneer Woman’s recipe – best and fluffiest cinnamon rolls we’ve ever had!). We also love to bake – so traditionally, we make sugar cookie cutouts that we frost, pecan fingers, and fudge (using Scott’s great-grandma’s recipe). Lastly, we make Green Death – a jello, whipped topping dessert using pistachio pudding, mini marshmallows and fruit cocktail – this was Scott’s grandma’s recipe.
– Jennifer and Scott