I strive to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. Last year, determined to pare down on the holiday crazy, we vowed to give less gifts to our daughter. We wanted to remove the majority of the focus on gifts, and instead place it on the importance of the meaning of Christmas and our time together as a family. Enter Advent and St. Nicholas Day …
One way we are trying to keep this perspective is by celebrating Advent and St. Nicholas Day. These are important traditions in the Christian faith, and we want to make them part of our family tradition as well!
What is Advent?
Advent is the four week period prior to Christmas when Christians reflect on the coming of Christ and await in hope for the arrival of the newborn King. Like I mentioned, we find it to be a key way we spend time together as a family in preparation.
This season is often marked by Advent wreaths and calendars (more on these below) and a general waiting, waiting, waiting in anticipation for the excitement of Christmas.
If you’d like to learn more about Advent or begin celebrating it in your home, here are some ideas to get you started!
Books for Kids
These are fantastic children’s read-aloud books for Advent that the whole family will enjoy!
- The Miracle of St. Nicholas
- The Donkey’s Dream
- The Way to Bethlehem
- Christmas Remembered
- The Legend of the Poinsettia
- Lucia: Saint of Light
- Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
- The Legend of the Candy Cane
Advent calendars are a fun way to count down the days until Christmas. There are countless variations and styles (including some themed!). Often, there is a little treat that corresponds with each day. Here are some of my favorite…
- Melissa and Doug Wooden Advent Calendar
- Organic Advent Calendar (with treats that are gluten free, dairy free, and vegan)
- Organic English Tea Advent Calendar
- Peanuts Advent Calendar
- Holy Family Advent Calendar
- LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar
A typical Advent wreath involves an evergreen wreath with four candles (three purple, one pink). Each Sunday of Advent, an additional candle is lit. This symbolizes the hope that builds as Christ’s coming draws nearer. There are various prayers you can say or hymns you can sing if you wish. Here are some gorgeous Advent wreaths – which do you like?
St. Nicholas Day
Each year, we kick off the Christmas season for our daughter with a Christmas nightgown, a Christmas book, a Christmas dress for pictures and holiday events, and an ornament. After looking over everything, I decided that this year would be the start of a new tradition with these gifts. I thought, what if I give the gifts in conjunction with the arrival of her Elf on the Shelf (hers is named Toofy), a tradition we started last year.
And then after reading Haley’s book (see below), I thought, DUH! I could give her those gifts on December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day! St. Nicholas is the inspiration for Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ feast day, which falls on December 6th every year, is typically a Northern European, especially German, celebration where you leave your shoes outside your bedroom for St. Nicholas to put presents into them overnight. I am half German and although my hubby’s family is Argentinian, his bloodline is German and Latvian. By giving her these special gifts on this special day, it’s the perfect way to honor our European roots and get it deeper touch with Advent traditions. My mother-in-law celebrated this tradition as a child growing up in Argentina, but they got gifts in their shoes on January 6th, the Epiphany, the celebration of the three kings coming to visit baby Jesus.
I also love this prayer for St. Nicholas:
Loving God, we thank you for the example of St. Nicholas, who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned and gave comfort to the lost, and taught the truth to all. May we strive to imitate him, by putting you first in all that we do. Give us the courage, love and strength, of St. Nicholas, so that, like him, we may serve you, through loving our brothers and sisters. Amen.
I think it’s going to be a great way to bring more of our Christian roots back into our traditions.
If you’d like to join in the fun, here are a few ideas to leave in your little one’s shoes!
- Christmas ornament
- St. Nicholas movie (like this one)
- New shoes
I mentioned my friend, Haley’s, book above, and I’m so excited to share it with you.
Feast! Real Food, Reflections and Simple Living for the Christian Year is an ebook great for any Christian wishing to feel more connected to the seasons of the Christian year. Following the Christian year, Haley provides family-friendly ideas for celebrating various feast days with food (all gluten free), activities, prayers, and more. It’s a go-to guide for anyone who wants to incorporate more of their Christian tradition into their daily lives, but feels overwhelmed in doing so. Haley has done all the hard work for us!
If you are interested in learning more, check out Haley’s book. It is a really beautiful book, full of inspiration, information and great recipes!
At the end of the day …
Celebrations like Advent and St. Nicholas Day are wonderful ways to keep our focus on what really matters during the holiday season. It makes us, and our children, pause and reflect on why this season is truly so exciting, and it involves the whole family in preparation for Christ’s birthday!
Do you celebrate Advent and St. Nicholas Day? If not, would you give it a try? Let me know your ideas in the comments!