Families get a head start on Advent traditions

Parishioners of Our Lady of Divine Providence Church in Metairie will be decking their halls with much more than holly this Advent.

After the Sunday morning Mass on Nov. 25, children, parents and grandparents were invited to the parish center to complete a number of hands-on projects designed to enhance their family’s at-home preparation for Christ’s birth.

“We just wanted our families to have something to nurture family prayer within the home during Advent,” said Mickey Morris, who came up with the idea of the “Advent Fair” in her role as Our Lady of Divine Providence’s director of religious education. “It’s easy to hear the priest preach at the pulpit (during Advent), but if families aren’t given something in their hands to do, they don’t always know where to find additional resources after they leave Mass.”

Four ‘crafty’ reminders
The inaugural Advent Fair, which had whole families cutting, coloring, gluing and stapling at tables covered in the seasonal colors of purple and pink, featured four craft stations, each one offering up a different home-based prayer aid:

• In a nod to the day’s celebration of the Feast of Christ the King, each family cut out a paper crown, labeled it with Jesus’ name and discussed that whenever one performs an act of love, the kingdom of God is built up. As a reminder of this precious work, each family was given a bag of plastic jewels with instructions to add a “gem” to Jesus’ crown every time a family member did a good deed during Advent.

• At the “Mary candle” table, each family pasted a prayer card of the Holy Family onto a votive, with instructions to light the candle during family prayer time every night beginning with the Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception and through Christmas Eve. After the image of the Holy Family was affixed to the glass candle holder, a blue and white “veil” was placed over the picture. The family will remove the veil on Christmas Eve.

• As a daily reminder of Jesus’ own genealogy, the families colored and punched holes into 24 paper ornaments for future hanging on their home’s Jesse tree.

• Finally, the families cut paper strips to make an “Advent chain,” a craft that will be used as a daily “countdown” to Christmas. As the chain is disassembled, an instruction on each paper link will challenge family members to perform good deeds such as sharing Christmas stories, making a card for an elderly neighbor and cleaning up the house without being asked.

Home packets include prayers for tree, creche

The participating families, who were assisted at the various craft stations by teachers from the Our Lady of Divine Providence parish school of religion and other parish volunteers, spent 20 minutes at each stop, and were awarded door prizes such as felt Nativity banners, Mary ornaments and Advent calendars. In addition to the crafts, each family went home with a folder filled with information on saints with December feast days, including St. Nicholas, Blessed Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Lucia. The packets also contained separate prayers for the blessing of the family Christmas tree and creche, along with Bible citations for each Jesse tree symbol – to encourage family Scripture time.

Although Katie Brandstetter had kept an Advent wreath and Jesse tree in her home, and read Christmas stories to her three young children from the time they were born, the Nov. 25 fair marked the first time she had ever prepared for Advent in “an organized setting” alongside her fellow parishioners.

“I really liked the idea of my kids getting to put a jewel in Jesus’ crown every time they do something good – it’s good positive reinforcement and also ties in the real meaning of Christmas,” said Brandstetter, noting that the bedazzled headpiece will have a place of honor on a living room table, next to her family’s Advent wreath.

‘Reason for the season’ kept at front and center

Brandstetter, who took turns with her husband Michael holding children on her lap as they completed each project, liked how each activity was “age appropriate” and understandable to even the youngest participants.

“I think (the craft projects) will help them, on their level, realize that there’s more than just Santa Claus and Christmas gifts,” she said. “It’s a bigger event than that.”

Although the majority of the families had children in tow, parishioner Stephanie Robert enthusiastically completed all four crafts with her fellow empty-nesters, Matt and Lorraine Ackermann. The trio said they simply wanted to spend time doing crafts as a parish family – an opportunity that just doesn’t come along very often, especially for those who no longer have school-age children or grandchildren.

Childlike joy felt by all

“We feel like we’re children again; it brings back memories of our childhood, of when we were preparing for Christmas,” said Robert, adding that she already had definite ideas about where each of her Advent-related items would be placed in her and her husband’s home.

“The Advent wreath always goes in the middle of our dining room table; the Jesse tree goes in the corner of our middle room; the Advent chain will be put in a doorway,” Robert said. “And I think I’ll put the Mary candle in the back room where we watch TV – to remind us to give our devotion to her, too.” 

Morris said the Advent crafts can be easily adapted to suit the needs of any parish or school, including the two she created herself: the Jesus crown and the Advent chain. 

The Mary candle activity was found while researching activities related to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, while the pre-printed Jesse tree ornaments have been used for years in Catholic schools and parish schools of religion, Morris said.

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .