I feel the need to publicly explain something. We have an ugly Christmas tree; a very ugly Christmas tree. Although my neighbors may not read this blog, I still need to explain why we are the only house with no lights on the tree, no lights on the house, and no gigantic blow up snowman in the front yard. You see, my husband and I feel that as Catholic parents it is very important to have our family traditions echo the traditions of the Church, thus hopefully bringing us closer to our dear Lord. We decided several years ago that we were going to be a bit strange culturally, and “do” Christmas in a way that would help bring the true message of the Gospel home.
In no way am I implying that if you put giant snowmen in your front yard that you are a bad parent, or a bad Catholic! Our children get bombarded with materialism around this time, so we knew that we wanted to take extra measures to keep their little minds and hearts focused on what is more important. Here are a few crazy Advent/Christmas traditions we like to keep in our family.
No lights during Advent.
Yup, that’s right. No lights on the Christmas tree, outside on the house, on the wreaths. Niente. No lights. Except for the obvious lights we use every day in our home, we try to use no decorative lights at all. Why? Well we know Christ is the light of the world. John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not.” For our family it is symbolic during Advent to have a home without Christmas lights. Children learn heavily through their senses. A lack of light helps them understand that there needs to be a spirit of preparation until Christmas. The few times we have light, like in our Advent wreaths, it is special and meaningful.
Decorating our hearts, not our homes
A dear priest once told us to “decorate our hearts more than our homes.” Along with having no lights on the Christmas tree, we also have no ornaments. We set the tree up the first week of advent. Trying with strong resolve to not give into the temptation of our children’s pitiful pleas, we do not decorate it further. They know that for every good deed performed during advent, they get to put one ornament upon the tree. This makes for a very ugly Christmas tree, but a lesson in character building for our children. Some years by Christmas the tree is full and beautiful from their deeds, sometimes it is still pretty sparsely decorated. Either way on Christmas Eve my husband and I stay up and work our magic. The rest of the ornaments go up, the lights are turned on, and the house decorated. It is so much exhausting fun! And the looks on the faces of the children on Christmas morning are pure joy.
Saint Nicholas, not Santa Claus
I have nothing against Santa Claus. My husband and I both grew up with Santa Claus traditions, and we would not trade those magical memories. We just decided to tweak those memories a bit for our children. Instead of Santa Claus coming to our house on Christmas morning, Saint Nicholas does. Why the change? Well, because it is a perfect opportunity to teach about the communion of saints, and the history of an important man who really did live. Our children still get presents in their stockings, but Saint Nicholas is the happy bearer. As the children get older and question Saint Nicolas really coming to their house, then we can explain that no, he didn’t physically come and bring them gifts. Mama and Papa placed the gifts for Saint Nicholas. We knew what they wanted because through the intercession of the saints we could pray and ask Saint Nicholas what you wanted for Christmas. What about the reindeer, and the elves etc? Our children have just naturally assumed they were fictional stories, but being children and enjoying to live in their imaginations, it has not dampened the festive spirit at all.
What a blessing Epiphany has been for our family! Liturgically Epiphany is the feast of manifestation of Christ to the World, symbolized by the coming of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus. What this means for us is an intimate Christmas celebration with just our children. Christmas celebrations are wonderful, but tiring. This gives us a chance to celebrate according to our own family’s needs (namely nap-time!) and experience more of the peace of the holy day without the fuss of a big family gathering. According to our Italian tradition, we also do not exchange presents until this day. That makes the day even more special for the children!
Celebrating through the Christmas season
What a letdown to celebrate Christmas during Advent and nothing during Christmas! As many are pitching their trees to the curb, our fun has just begun. Liturgically the season of Christmas lasts much longer than the world celebrates. The official last day of Christmas falls on the Feast of Epiphany. But because our family likes to party it up, we go by the older Church calendar and celebrate Christmas up until February 2nd which is the Feast of Candlemass. It is not wrong to extend the celebration, and we feel like because we try to celebrate Advent with more of a spirit of preparation, then we can really have fun during Christmas.
These are a few of our “crazy” traditions and why we do them. Remember that you as the parent get to prayerfully decide what is best for your family. We have the richness of our faith tradition to guide and help us in molding the dear little ones entrusted to us. May your Advent and Christmas be full of joy, peace, and many blessings!