Advent resources cheat sheet!

Advent begins December 2 this year, this coming Sunday! Here is my basic list of Advent resources. These are all things you can do quickly and easily, if you stay calm. Remember, nobody does everything! It’s okay to say, “That looks nice, but I know I’ll make everyone miserable if I attempt it, so we’ll skip it this year.”

Advent chains to print out, designed by my sister, Abby Tardiff. Cut them out, make a paper chain, and cut one each day of Advent and read what’s inside. See the chains of sin and death getting shorter and shorter until Jesus comes! Kablammo! You can tape them to purple or pink strips of paper if you like. (This version starts on Dec. 1, so you’ll have to fudge a tiny bit. We never manage to do this every day anyway, so I figure it will even out.)

Jesse tree ornaments and scripture readings. This could be a very quick project if you have low ambitions and energy. Just cut out a bunch of cardboard discs and draw a simple picture on each one, then hang them with a paper clip.

This year, I was feeling more ambitious, so we used paint markers and capiz shells to make Jesse tree ornaments, and they turned out pretty good. Yeah, I splurged on something with pre-drilled holes, and that has made all the difference.

The only thing I haven’t figured out is where to hang them so the freaking cat doesn’t destroy them.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, words for all eight verses I don’t want to hear any grousing! It’s a good song. We start out singing two verses, then add two verses each week.

Sunday prayers for the Advent wreath

Advent candles.

Today is probably the last day to order, if you have Prime. You can sometimes find pink and purple candles just in the regular candle section of Walmart or whatever, not specifically packaged for Advent, of course.

If you don’t have colored candles, you can use regular candles and tie purple and pink ribbons on, or even make a colored cuff halfway up with construction paper. Do not attempt to dye white candles with melted crayons. I beg of you.

How to make a good-enough Advent wreath because it’s gonna be dark anyway:

Buy a cheapo twisted twig wreath at the dollar store, then use about forty yards of thread to strap evergreen branches down thoroughly. It’s hard to attach candles to they stand up, so you can find glass candle holders and the dollar store and set inside the wreath.  Put the whole thing on a pizza pan, so you can easily move it off the table and store it in a safe, unpunchable place when it’s not in direct use. Little berries and pinecones and bells and doves are nice, but so it just plain greenery: Green for hope, round for eternity.

You can also just sort of heap evergreens in a bundle or in a basket, but then you’ll miss the imagery of the circle. But green is good.

Another very easy Advent tradition that we manage to keep as a family most years: “fast” from dessert except on Sundays. I take what money I would have spent, and buy extra food for the church’s food pantry.

And finally: Get to confession. Here are a few different examinations of conscience. Do that during Advent, and you did Advent right. Ta dah!

Who’s got other resources to share? Feel free to leave links to anything relevant in the comments.

Advent is coming. Keep it simple! UPDATED

I know, I know, you’re focused on Thanksgiving right now.  Just bookmark this for next week.

Advent is coming!  I always feel a little silly saying that, because the word “advent” actually means “coming.”  But that’s how life is when you’re In Charge of Stuff:  you even have to plan about planning ahead.  So, if you haven’t looked it up yet, the first Sunday in Advent is Nov. 30, which is . . . soon.

We do try to put off celebrating Christmas until it’s actually almost Christmas.  I claim this is because it would be a violation of the integrity of the spirit of penance and preparation to behave as if Christmas has already arrived; but actually my main reason is that my fine young sons see decorations as a challenge.  A punching challenge.  When some new vision swims before their eyes, whether it’s a pillow or a brother or gorgeous centerpiece bedecked with fragile berries, gilded bells and trembling, cinnamon-scented miniature pine cones, they say to themselves, “Gotta punch that.”

So I put off Christmas as long as possible for Christmas’ own good.  I don’t want Christmas to get punched.

Advent, however, can take a little smacking around.  One of the great things about any kind of Advent preparation is that, by definition, you have to keep it simple and spare.  A lush, lavish, complicated Advent makes about as much sense as a simple, understated fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

So as Advent approaches, I always remind myself that, while there are lots of wonderful ideas out there for how to observe the season, it’s not only impossible to do it all, it would be contrary to the spirit of the season to go overboard!  I plan small, and we can always add things later on years when we’re feeling ambitious and energetic.  We aim for simple, inexpensive, and edifying.

We do two things without fail every Advent.  The first is to make and light an Advent wreath, which we attempt to light every night while singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (adding two verses each week); but some years, it’s mostly a Sunday thing.  I just bought a cheapo twisted twig wreath at the dollar store, then use about forty yards of thread strapping evergreen branches down thoroughly.  If I can’t find purple and pink candles, I just use white, and tie on bows made of ribbon or cloth in the right colors.  Oh, and after a lifetime of trying to attach candle holders to a wreath, I just gave up, and now use (again, cheapo dollar store) glass candle holders, which I set inside the wreath.  I put the whole thing on a pizza pan, so I can easily move it off the table and store it in a safe, unpunchable place when it’s not in direct use.  Some years we have little golden balls and berries and doves, but other years, it’s just the greenery.  Here are prayers for each Sunday.  Print it out now, along with a few copies of “O Come Emmanuel,” and tape it to your pizza pan or something.

If this sounds unpleasantly practical and workaday to you, remember:  Advent is dark.  Lights out.  Once you have candlelight and acapella singing, it’s just as magical and luminous and mysterious as whatever the Vatican is doing on that same day.

(The child pictured above is utterly failing to think, “Tippy candle?  No pinecones?  This Advent is not impressive at all!”)

The second thing we do for Advent is we all go to confession once or twice before Christmas.

That’s it.  That’s the bare minimum, and some years, it’s also the maximum we can manage. There are plenty of wonderful Advent ideas.  But please remember, KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Don’t go overboard.  Pick one or two, and don’t make it elaborate.  And make sure you get to confession!

If you want a hands-on project for your kids but aren’t feeling very crafty, here is a free printable chain from  Life Made Lovely.  Print it out, cut the days into separate strips, and staple or tape them into a long chain.  You can hang the chain on your Christmas tree if you have one already, or anywhere in the house (hang it high, to avoid punching).  Starting on Nov. 29 (which is Saturday, the vigil of the first Sunday in Advent), you cut off one link each day and read what’s inside. This particular one just has a short description and a Bible verse to look up and read, and is designed for little kids; but if you Google “advent chain 2014,” you will find other styles, some more elaborate that others.

UPDATE: Rebecca Salazar hunted down a link that I thought was lost, so now you can also print and use the Advent chain links that my sister Abby Tardiff made up. These have complete short verses, plus pictures to color, on them. Link here.

If you like, you can color or attach the  paper strips to construction paper strips before you make them into a chain:  purple for the first, third and fourth weeks, and pink for the third week. I like the idea of a chain, because you can see it getting smaller and smaller as Christmas approaches.  You can explain to kids that it reminds us of the chains of sin, which get weaker and weaker until our Savior arrives — and then the chain is gone.

If you do an advent chain that has pictures on it, you could also use the cut strips as ornaments for a Jesse Tree, adding one ornament each day of Advent.  Or, if you’re feeling brave and have kids who are old enough, you could just dump all your craft materials which you have carefully kept organized and . . . sorted . . .

Tohu wa-bohu.

Tohu wa-bohu.

on the table, assign different symbols to each kid, and go hide for a couple of hours and see what happens, repeating the phrase “it’s only once a year” to yourself, and with the firm understanding that glitter on the floor doesn’t count as a mess unless it actually impedes your walking.  We do this some years for our “day after Thanksgiving” tradition.  Lacking space for a free-standing Jesse Tree, I just clip a branch from a bare tree and bolt it to the wall.  It looks good and weird, like a Catholic home should.

Another very easy Advent tradition that we manage to keep as a family most years is to “fast” from dessert except on Sundays. I take what money I would have spent, and buy extra food for the church’s food pantry.

What are your Advent plans?  On the years when you really followed the spirit of the season, what was it like?

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[This post originally ran on the National Catholic Register in 2011.]