SummaryNot sure how to welcome the spirit of Advent into your home this year? Mary Donellan describes her family’s simple and achievable prayer traditions.
Advent is a liturgical season brimming with special richness and beauty, and upon its arrival, my family always tries to create a noticeable shift in the atmosphere of our home.
Sure, we do lots of baking, caroling, gift-buying, parties, and birthday celebrations before Christmas! Advent prayer, however, always proves to be the most important element for securing the spirit of expectation for Christ’s Nativity.
Over the years, we’ve discovered and incorporated Advent prayers, both old and new, in our homeschool. Some became permanent traditions, while others belonged to certain phases in life when the children were younger. Some prayers we’ve prayed together as a family, while others have become personal traditions for the older children.
No matter how they’ve been integrated into our own family, these prayers set Advent apart as a sacred and special time; and no matter how busy we are outside the home, these prayers keep our home a place of (relative!) Advent quiet and purpose.
Here, I’d like to share some of our favorite Advent prayer traditions from across the years, in the hope that it might inspire and encourage you as you work to bring Advent prayer into your own homeschool!
1. Advent Hymns
Hymns are wonderful prayers! Nothing can captivate and transform the atmosphere of your homeschool more quickly or effectively than everyone joining in an Advent hymn.
The day could have been a total blowout in terms of your Advent plans, but when everyone has collapsed on the sofas at night and you’ve lit your Advent wreath and begun singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”—suddenly the failures and the squirming toddlers cease to bother you, because your soul has been caught up in the longing of the ancients for the Messiah.
So why not start off by bringing a few Advent hymns into your homeschool?
Try learning one or two traditional ones; the older hymns often have so much reverence and simple beauty in them, are not difficult to learn, and are easily found on YouTube.
Some of my family’s favorites are, “O Come, Divine Messiah,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and “People, Look East.” The words are so stirring, solemn, and yet joyous, and they never fail to fill our hearts with the authentic Advent spirit.
“O Come, divine Messiah! / The world, in silence, waits the day / when hope shall sing its triumph / and sadness flee away!”
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel / and ransom captive Israel / that mourns in lonely exile here / until the Son of God appear.”
“People, look east! The time is near / of the crowning of the year / Make your house fair as you are able / trim the hearth and set the table / People, look east! And sing today / Love, the Guest, is on the way.”
If you can’t sing, you can always simply listen to the hymns from a CD or online.
But either way, I’m convinced if more families would bring Advent hymns into their homeschool, the liturgical season would come ever more beautifully alive for them!
2. The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
Advent is the perfect time to pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, which are rooted in the Incarnation, Nativity, and childhood of Christ.
Now that my youngest siblings are preteens and teens, we’ve all been able to pray the daily rosary as a family, and that’s been a real blessing for us, especially as the different liturgical seasons come around and we pray certain mysteries more frequently.
But as the daily rosary might be a struggle for families with little ones, try praying just a decade of the Joyful Mysteries together, at least on nights when you’re at home. Meditating as a family on the mystery of the Incarnation will be doubly beautiful during this Advent season.
And, after all, Our Lady should be the guardian of our Advent homeschooling endeavors. During the first Advent, Christ was present in the world as a Child in her womb, but only the Virgin Mary was visible!
So, as Catholic homeschooling families who desire to have Christ present—truly though invisibly—in our homes, it’s especially important for us to consecrate our Advent to Mary. She will always help us to pray!
3. Advent Novenas
There are three traditional and very special novenas than can be said during Advent: the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, the Immaculate Conception Novena, and the Christmas Novena.
My personal favorite is the St. Andrew novena. It begins on November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew, and continues all the way through Christmas Eve. Traditionally, this prayer is repeated fifteen times a day:
“Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born to the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O My God, to hear my prayers and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His blessed Mother. Amen.”
Granted, fifteen times a day might seem a little bit laughable in the face of the wandering attention spans of your brood—but even offering it once a day (you could add it on to your blessing before meals, or another every-day prayer) would be a simple way to bring a beautiful, traditional Advent prayer into your home.
If you or your older children are inspired to do so, you can pray the traditional fifteen repetitions; but the striking imagery and profound contemplation in this small prayer is what makes it truly special, so don’t worry overmuch about numbers.
There are several online sources for the Immaculate Conception and Christmas Novenas (my favorites are on www.PrayMoreNovenas.com), and they are probably more easily prayed together as a family. The Christmas Novena is a family tradition that we look forward to.
But no matter which novena you choose to bring into your homeschool, be it one or all three, your family, like mine, will reap the graces of this extra effort towards contemplation and petition leading up to Christmas!
Many of us may already be familiar with the old “Christkindle” or “Kris Kringle” tradition wherein all the family members draw names, and secretly take whomever they draw as their special object of prayer and good deeds during Advent. My family does this every year and has a ridiculously difficult time keeping our secrets!
The “Christkindle” tradition is an exciting and fun way to encourage your children to make spiritual bouquets for others during Advent. While it might require a little supervision here and there, this tradition, on the whole, is one that they can take up quickly and keep ownership of throughout the season.
Children can keep a record of the special prayers they offered for their own “Christkindle” during Advent, and present the lucky sibling or parent with a handmade card on Christmas morning.
It’s a heartwarming and fun Advent tradition that keeps the prayer engine chugging along!
How on earth can I fit any of these in?!
So yes, all of these ideas might sound wonderful in theory—but then there’s Advent Reality. The calendar is crammed, the days are full, and there are very few moments of quiet time in which to work new Advent prayers, no matter how much we might want to. I know the feeling well!
Whether we’re homeschooling parents or older students swamped with pre-Christmas work, plans, and obligations, we might be left wondering how we can take the first step out of our busyness, towards making this Advent the most prayerful yet.
Well, to close out this article, I have two simple suggestions (born of experience and conversations with other, wiser, homeschooling people):
A. Tape prayers in the bathroom/over the stove/in the laundry room.
Let’s not be embarrassed; after all, sometimes the bathroom is the only place where a little peace and quiet can be found. If your days are full, or your kids are too small to involve in many Advent traditions yet, but you’re craving a sliver of personal Advent reflection, don’t be afraid to take it where and when you can get it!
You can also tape a short Advent prayer/meditation over your stove, your sink, or your laundry room cupboard.
A little creativity can go a long way towards helping Advent prayer pervade your domestic church, and it doesn’t have to be fancy!
B. Pay attention to the natural flow of your days.
There will be times during the day (or the week) when at least most of the family is together, or you are alone, and a pause in the chaos naturally occurs (however brief!). For my own family, the dinner table was always a fairly safe place. We kept our Advent wreath there for years and offered our prayers right after supper.
But no matter your personal schedule, be on the lookout for little pauses, and keep trying to make the most of them—no matter the imperfections, your Advent will be all the more blessed if you find the quiet moments and fill them with prayer!
Have a grace-filled and joyous Advent!