Advent in our house is a busy, joyful time filled with anticipation and activities we do at no other time of year–activities that nourish our faith and rev up our sense of fun–and sometimes, both at once. I spend all year jotting notes to myself on fresh ideas to include in our Advent calendar. This year, I’ve spent some time making friends with the saints. It inspired me to dig up some easy ways to incorporate saint celebrations into our yearly adventure.
Dec. 6: St. Nicholas
- Everyone knows about leaving shoes out and putting gifts in them in the night. (That shouldn’t be hard; in my house, the shoes are left out every night…) But here’s a more outward-focused idea. Wrap a few cookies or candies in a square of yellow tissue paper and tie it with a ribbon, then deliver them secretly to neighbors, classmates, teachers or coworkers, or even a local shelter. (Secrecy is important, you know!) (Thanks to The St. Nicholas Center for this idea.)
- Make “St. Nicholas bread.” Use home-made or store-bought bread dough. Let it warm, then form a “body” from one large dough ball (torso), one medium-sized ball (head), and four small balls, rolled out into arms and legs. You can use chocolate chips or raisins for eyes, nose and mouth. Glaze it with beaten egg, let it rise for fifteen minutes and bake, then serve warm and drizzled with honey.
Dec. 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
- Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of the Americas and the only apparition in which Mary was pregnant–particularly appropriate for this time of year. This is a huge celebration in the Mexican community, including an elaborate procession, Mass and feast. If you don’t have a local community celebration you can “crash,” why not have a Mexican food night at home? Order in, go out, or make it yourself. Tacos are easy; so are “nachos supreme.” Make cheese dip, taco meat, chopped tomatoes, olives, sour cream, guacamole, and shredded lettuce and cheeses, and let everyone top their own plate of chips.
Dec. 13: St. Lucy’s Day
- The most familiar image of this feast is a procession of white-clad girls carrying candles and delivering sweet buns to family members first thing in the morning. Not very realistic in my household, I’ll tell you that! But there’s another tradition: plant grains of wheat in small containers on this feast, and keep them watered and well lit so they will sprout in time to be offered to Baby Jesus on Christmas. For Catholics, wheat makes an especially poignant connection with the Eucharist. (Thanks to Maria von Trapp)
- You can also make St. Lucy buns. These are essentially sweet rolls with saffron added to the mix. If you have a bread machine, whipping up a batch is very easy. You can find dozens of variations online.
Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception
- Mary might have been conceived without sin, but the rest of us were not! This year, the feast day falls on Saturday. Why not receive the sacrament of Penance as a family?
- A culinary possibility is a “white meal” to represent Mary’s purity. (Thanks to Catholic Cuisine)
- My in-laws are Italian, and as you might imagine, they have very strong food traditions for this time of year. Christmas Eve is a meatless day. The center of the evening meal is an unexpectedly delicious fish soup made of a tomato-vegetable broth and seafood of your choice. The full recipe is included in my book for Lent, Bring Lent to Life.
What feast day traditions do you incorporate into your Advent season?
Kathleen Basi is a Catholic wife, mother of four, and the author of Joy to the World: Advent Activities For your Family. She blogs about life, faith and family at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.