SummaryMary Donellan offers that the Advent wreath is the secret to keeping your family’s Advent both simple and sacred during the chaos of the holiday season.
Bringing Out the Advent Wreath
I don’t think I’ll ever fail to feel that tingling thrill in my stomach whenever we unearth our Advent wreath from the attic and place it on our kitchen table—in its rich colors, stirring symbolism, and beautiful simplicity—at the beginning of each liturgical year.
In some ways, it’s almost even better than setting out our Christmas tree; maybe because, as they say, the expectation of something good is almost as wonderful as receiving the thing itself. And Advent is such a deeply beautiful season of anticipation for the coming of Christ!
But Advent also presents its challenges, and homeschooling families are no exception. Now, I admit this would be the prime time for an idealized Advent-themed paragraph, such as (cue the throat clearing):
For as long as I can remember, Advent always brought a special aura of expectation into my family’s homeschool. It wove a spiritual wreath of hope, peace, joy and love around us as a family while we made an effort to distance ourselves from the commercialized pre-Christmas culture as much as we could. We instead tried to focus our hearts and minds quietly on the threefold coming of Christ: His historical birth, His daily coming to us in the Mass (in both Word and Eucharist), and His promise to come at the end of time; and we were peaceful, happy, and eager for Christmas.
The Annual Advent Battle for Peace & Quiet
While the sentiments of this are all certainly true for me, and Advent will forever remain my favorite of the liturgical seasons (especially Advent in my family’s domestic church!), none of us can deny that the battle for a little peace, quiet and spiritual tranquility during Advent is a strenuous fight indeed.
The four weeks before Christmas are hardly ever the ideal picture we plan, to begin with!
In our eagerness to embrace the season of Advent in all its beauty and efficacy, it’s cruelly easy for us homeschooling families to create an ideal dream of the season just before it happens.
It’s all too tempting for us to plan for a prayerful four weeks of meditation and holy expectation before Christmas in our homeschool. And then, with a sputtering gust of cold, we’re confronted with the whirlwind of plans, commitments, logistical preparations for Christmas, and sicknesses that we can never seem to avoid this time of the year.
Our Advent can honestly feel as though it’s blown away before we’ve even half begun it; and when we realize that we’ve only read a quarter of the Advent picture books we’d set out, or only prayed a handful of the Advent prayers we’d planned to offer together as a family . . . a sense of unshakeable discouragement is only an inch or two away.
This is where homeschooling families need to turn to the Advent wreath.
The Advent Wreath: A Spiritual Lighthouse
The Advent wreath, physically speaking, doesn’t give off an extraordinary amount of light.
After all, it’s only four candle flames dancing out of a small evergreen wreath. But spiritually speaking, the Advent wreath is a beacon; a lighthouse on the edge of the sea.
It remains stationary in your home, casting out a bright spiritual beam of light that is meant to anchor and re-orient you as a family during the unavoidably choppy waves and whirling winds of December.
Setting out your Advent wreath might be the most significant thing you do as a homeschooling family this Advent. For no matter what happens to your family’s traditional plans for Advent—whether they’re Jesse trees, special prayers, works of mercy, crafts, decorations, or the like (all of which my family tries, or has tried, to do!)—only one thing retains its importance: the necessity of preserving the authentic spirit of Advent in your family. And the Advent wreath serves as the perfect reminder of this spirit.
Whether it’s on your kitchen table, your mantlepiece, or even suspended from your ceiling, the Advent wreath serves as the quintessential symbol of the entire liturgical season.
Its candles represent Advent’s virtues and fruits of hope, peace, joy and love; its colors call to mind penance, expectation, and new life. Unlike a craft, project, or plan, you don’t have to do anything to the wreath other than look at it (other than lighting the appropriate candles, if you have the time!).
A single glance at the wreath in the middle of a chaotic December day, whether we’re immersed in school, cleaning, or crumpled tissues, instantly reminds us of just what it is—Who it Is—that we are waiting and preparing for as a homeschooling family.
And that is priceless and so necessary!
5. Ideas for Homeschooling Around the Advent Wreath
Here are five ideas on how to celebrate Advent around the Advent wreath as a homeschooling family, born from my own family’s traditions which we’ve collected over the years:
1. Offer your morning prayers around the Advent wreath.
At the start of your school day, gather around wherever your Advent wreath is situated. Light the candle(s) of the week, and pray as you normally would—or add a special Advent prayer (such as the St. Andrew Christmas Novena) if you’re so inclined.
The simple act of gathering around the Advent wreath in prayer effectively draws everyone, from the parent to the toddler, into the quiet interior realization that this is an extraordinary time; this is a blessed time.
2. Display “hope,” “peace,” “joy,” and “love,” on a nearby wall or window.
The four weeks of Advent are themed around the virtues and fruits of hope, peace, joy and love.
For years, my family has cut out construction paper snowflakes (either purple or pink, depending on the week), then taped the individual letters of the week’s virtue (cut out of white construction paper) to the snowflakes, and spelled out the virtue on the large window behind our kitchen table.
It’s a quick, lovely craft and an easy way of drawing everyone’s eyes to the Advent wreath and the virtues it represents, whenever we come into the room.
3. Light the Advent wreath during supper or evening family time.
Every night during Advent when we’re home, my family lights the Advent wreath (since it’s on our table) during supper. Since this is usually the first time the whole family has gathered together during the day, it makes it particularly special to have the Advent wreath at the center of our family meal, reminding us to keep the spirit of Advent alive in our hearts as a homeschooling family.
4. Sing Advent hymns around the wreath.
This is my favorite thing to do during Advent as a family, and it segues perfectly from suppertime since everyone is already gathered around the wreath.
There are many beautiful, traditional Advent hymns to choose from, but a few of my family’s many favorites are, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “People, Look East,” “O Come, Divine Messiah,” and “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.” We turn off the electric lights and rely on the wreath’s candlelight, and we sing the hymns softly together.
It only takes five minutes, but is incredibly powerful and has contributed to the Advent memories I now treasure most.
5. Wait to decorate for Christmas until after Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, is when the Church traditionally begins decorating for Christmas.
While we find our culture decorating for Christmas even before Thanksgiving, delaying setting up Christmas decorations as a homeschooling family means that we can instead focus our attention on the Advent wreath and all it represents during the early weeks of Advent.
Instead of it being immediately surrounded by holiday decorations, the wreath can stand on its own: a simple, sacred, and effective reminder of the beauty and holiness of the Advent season, both in the Church and in our homeschool.
So this year, let’s not be daunted by the fact that we may have far less time for our Advent plans than we would prefer. Let’s not scramble to piece together difficult-to-achieve ideals for this beautiful liturgical season, when something simple would serve our souls just as well, if not better.
Instead, let’s set up our Advent wreath; let’s light the candles one by one, gather our family around its silence, and let it serve as the spiritual beam that will lead us through the chaos of our life, past the commercialism of our culture, and safely to the manger.