By Shemaiah Gonzalez, Catholic News Service     12/3/2018

Advent, the four-week period preceding Christmas, is a time to slow down as we wait in hopeful expectation for Christ’s coming. It’s a time to take stock of what’s important in our lives, casting away extra commitments and wasted energy we’ve added throughout the year. 

Here are a few traditions that an individual or a family can practice to slow down and draw closer to Christ during Advent. 


Advent candles 

Many parishes light a candle at Mass each of the four weeks of Advent. The candles are violet, the liturgical color for Advent in the church calendar, with the exception of the third candle, which is rose for Gaudete Sunday. We light the candles to symbolize the coming of Christ, the Light of the World. 

Many families choose to carry this tradition into their homes. You can purchase a wreath for the candles online or you may choose to make one with items in your yard or ones you find on a family walk. Children will love gathering branches or pine cones to make the wreath. 

Candles often provide their own calming effect. Remembering candles from birthdays past, my own children hold a sense of anticipation whenever they see one lit. 

Families could mark this moment as a sacred one by singing a hymn or anticipatory carol such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” or praying an Advent prayer together. In our house, we take turns blowing out the candle as we ready ourselves for a peaceful sleep at the end of the evening. 

Giving tree 

Each year our Catholic school has a giving tree set up in the foyer. Families are invited to select a paper ornament labeled with a child’s age, gender and a desired gift for a family in our community that needs a little help this holiday season. 

Many parishes, schools and nonprofits have such giving trees during Advent. It is good reminder to place focus on those who may not have much during the season. 

My sons usually pick a giving-tree tag with a child around their own age. We go shopping together, and they get to choose the present. They love thinking about the child enjoying the toy they picked out for them. I let my boys wrap the present themselves, and as I supervise, we pray for the child and their family before turning the gift in. 


Contemplative prayer 

Contemplative prayer, also called silent prayer, is the practice of quieting your thoughts, words and physical movements to simply rest in the love and presence of God. At first this can be difficult but in time you grow to desire these moments, finding they serve as an anchor for your day and the Advent season. 

Start by setting aside five to 10 minutes of your day for prayer. Many find prayer to be the perfect way to begin or end the day. Some find setting aside time for prayer during their lunch break resets them, giving them energy for the rest of the day. 

Begin by quieting yourself with a few deep breaths and focus on God’s presence with you. You may focus on a short verse or word to keep your mind from wandering. Let your word be the themes each week of Advent: hope, faith, joy, peace. 

Choosing a family tradition to share during Advent will ground us in the holy as commercialism swirls around us. These traditions focus us to wait in hopeful expectation for Christ’s light to come into our world and our hearts.