It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Seriously, there’s just something about this time that’s…magical.
Even though you tend to see the worst of people (driving, shopping, searching for deals, parking at the mall…), my faith in humanity is always restored a bit during this time. We come together as a parish to support several parishioner families that are in need of food and gifts. There’s the Salvation Army and its seasonal ringing for loose change. Also the Salvation Army, Angel Trees line the shopping malls. Toys for Tots are in stores, on the news, and in our schools. Food pantry donations overflow.
This is the precarious part of this most wonderful time of the year.
Everyone is having a party. We see an uptick in family reunions. There’s a potluck for this organization, a chili cook-off for that one, a white elephant gift exchange. You get invitations to cookie baking parties and gift-wrapping marathon movie nights. There’s a million local events ranging from free to really expensive to make your holiday memorable and remarkable.
The thing is, the holiday season in itself-that wonderful time of year-is already remarkable. In Advent, we’re preparing for the coming of the Savior. In Christmas, we’re celebrating his birth. This time is the most wonderful time simply because of what it’s about.
So how do we focus on that and fight against the stream of commercialization and secularization?
This week is moving week for me, so to say that our holidays are starting with a BANG! would be an understatement. It’s got lots of potential to be frenetic and crazed. But I know that going in, so (in true Kristi fashion) I have a plan.
Week One: November 26-December 2 This week I am focusing on moving into our new family home (our new domestic church) and unpacking. Little Miss is in charge of setting up her room and she’s going to help set Belle’s up, too. Superman and I will handle the rest amidst the backdrop of work and prepping for a work trip. As we convert our house into a home, we will have a priest come and bless it, so we start the season holy. We’re also going to begin Story of This Life’s December Nativity & Scripture tradition (the link will take you to a Facebook video, and there are instructions on their Facebook page as well). Little Miss fell in love with the idea and we’re running with it.
Week Two: December 3-9 The first week of Advent, we’ll pull out our Advent wreath and light the first candle (with prayer) each night at dinner. We’ll also use this week to decorate our home for the season (sorry…we don’t wait!) and continue our Story of This Life activity. We’ll also spend some time with family that weekend. St. Nick stops by our home, too, so he’ll leave chocolate coins, a Cutie orange, and a book for Little Miss. Don’t forget: December 8 is a holy day of obligation! Little Miss and I are also attending a holiday tea. All of our Angel Tree and Toys for Tots donations will be due this week.
Week Three: December 10-16 We’ll kick off the second Sunday of Advent with a St. Nicholas breakfast at church and will begin lighting the first two candles of our wreath at home. This is also when we go looking at Christmas lights to celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. New for us this year? We’re attending an Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass & Tamale Dinner at our parish. Again, we’ll continue the Story of This Life activity.
Week Four: December 17-23 For the third week in Advent, we’ll light all three candles and celebrate with our nightly wreath and Story of This Life activities. School will come to an end, so there will be an end-of-year party. We’ll begin reading A Christmas Carol and then watching our favorite versions of it this week, too. Our favorites, by the way, are Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol…in fact, I think Disney has made all three of these! This will be the week for cookie baking, too!
Week Five: December 24-30 In this strange, final week of Advent/beginning of the Christmas season, we’ll be going to Sunday morning Mass and then Christmas Eve Mass for the Children’s Choir performance ahead of having some family time on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, Little Miss will be tasked with locating all of the hidden Baby Jesuses from our Nativity scenes and placing them where they belong prior to opening gifts. Then the race is on to find the hidden pickle ornament (a German tradition, honoring our ancestral roots, which we learned about in Epcot’s Germany on our “familymoon.”). This link will take you to a site for German beer steins (so if you happen to be in the market for some…lol), but we liked it’s explanation. We’ll then eat our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls with my parents and do Christmas with them ahead of going to my in-laws’ home for Christmas dinner, where we’ll have Christmas with cousins and aunts and uncles. We also begin our Wise Men Seeking Jesus tradition this week.
There’s a lot on this schedule, but it’s centered around two things: the liturgical season (and its meaning) and our family. We’ve got our own traditions as well as those of our families-of-origin, with focuses on giving and the meaning of the season. For us, this helps ensure that we’re doing the most wonderful time of the year correctly.
Here are some insights into last year’s Advent and more, with all of our Advent posts:
Don’t forget to join us on social media, posting about your own Advent 2017 celebrations using the hashtag #HowWeAdvent. We’ve got a lot of our blogging friends on board using the same hashtag, so if you’re coming up short for ideas, search it on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for inspiration.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, the most wonderful time of the year. Let us know how you celebrate in the comments!
It’s here! Our first EVER Advent gift guide!! Last year, we’d just begun our blog mid-Advent and didn’t have this opportunity. This year, after cultivating our identity and relationships with AMAZING Catholic artisans, we’ve got gifts for everyone…and several coupon codes to boot!
It’s important to us that you know we don’t get any money from anything that you purchase through this gift guide. We want to spread the word about these wonderful Catholic companies while also helping make your Christmas gift-giving solidly Catholic.
For the Little Ones in Your Life
Dolls from Heaven: Chances are you know we LOVE this company. Their sweet line of 18″ dolls is comprised of St. Therese the Little Flower (which we have and adore!), St. Joan of Arc, and Pope St. John Paul the Great. Right now, they’re offering a 15% code for our readers. That’s right: 15% off the entire purchase! That is by far the greatest deal you’ll get on these dolls all year! Use the code HAILMARRY at checkout by November 29 to redeem.
Paradise Jewelry: This company is a new discovery for us, but we’re so glad we found them! This shop owner, Kaycee, began making and selling jewelry seasonally in the 90‘s, her shop has now expanded to include a new clothing line, Annaree Rose! Look at these totally adorable Nativity outfits! You can find her shop on the above link or on Etsy. She’s also on Instagram and uses #ParadiseJewelryofcp and #annareerose. Use coupon code HAILMARRY20 to save 20% at checkout!
Kidderbug Kreations: Were so glad to have Anne’s products featured once more on the blog! We discussed her reading pillows last month, but today were featuring these too-cute hooded towels! For a direct link to these towels, click here.
Hairbows 4 Life: This sweet company makes hairbows for little girls. Beyond the usual bow, these are decidedly Catholic in that they feature saint medals on them. The company (a family business) is also heavily involved in pro-life ministry. For you, dear readers, they’re offering 20% off with the code Christmas2017 as well as free shipping on orders over $15! Be stylish, save money, and promote life, all at once!
Amy Brooks is an amazing lady: a huge proponent of adoption and prayer journaling, this busy mom of three blogs at Prayer, Wine, Chocolate and has given young girls a wonderful gift in this journal. Little Miss loves hers! While I’ve seen these available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, you can also buy them directly from Amy’s website here.
For Your Domestic Church
Sara is another fantastic blogger (at To Jesus, Sincerely) who focuses on prayer and your spiritual relationship with God. This year, she released a Mosaic Jesse Tree ornament set complete with a daily devotional. This is a sort of Advent calendar activity designed to begin on December 1 each year. The ornaments are beautiful, and she’s selling sets that are pre-assembled as well as those you assemble in a DIY manner. Check out her Etsy shop for more information!
Telos Design, LLC: Owner Jessica Connolly and I actually met at Edel ’17 in August. She makes beautiful jewelry (she had a St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes medalion necklace I had to get for my mom for her birthday!) and stunning liturgical calendars, as seen above. The 13-month Sacred Art Calendar features art from current and classical Christian artists, daily readings, feast days, seasonal colors, wire binding. And new this year, prayer cards! The bottom section of the calendar can be removed and used as a prayer card with the art on the reverse side. How amazing is that? Better still, she’s offering a discount code of 10% when you use AdventHM10 at checkout. She’s also on the “Catholic Etsy,” Peter’s Square.
Sweet Little Ones Shop: The mission of Sweet Little Ones Shop is to help Catholic women decorate their homes in a meaningful, faith-filled way on a budget. They offer wall art printables that aim to serve as beautiful visual reminders that will inspire a deepening of the Catholic faith in our everyday lives. For the majority of the shop, which are instant downloads, there is no deadline for Christmas delivery, but for custom orders, the deadline for Christmas is December 8. Owner Jessica is offering a 20% off code CHRISTMAS20, which is good for 20% off all wall art printables and bundles (excluding customizations and some custom bundles – see Sweet Little Ones Shop on Etsy for details). This coupon is good through December 25, 2017.
Give Him 5: This ministry is all about inspiring you to spend time with Jesus and to grow in faith and holiness. Their slogan is “Give him 5, He gave you everything.” which is powerful to think about. They’ve got mugs, cups, books, prayer cards, promotional items, and prayer bags for sale. To receive orders by Christmas, they must be placed by December 12. For 20% off your entire purchase, use code Christmas at checkout.
Grace Painted: Valerie and her goods are new to us, too, but they’re so pretty! The shop designs custom Bibles that are lovely. Right now, she’s running a 20% off sale on all items in-shop until December 23. Use ADVENT2017 at checkout.
Relics by Rose: We’ve been Instagram buddies for awhile with this shop! They specialize in unique, faith-inspired jewelry that combines remnants and relics from bygone eras with stylish modern designs. Order by December 5 to guarantee Christmas delivery and use ROSESGIFTS15 at checkout to receive 15% off.
Just Love Prints: Catholic artwork and gifts for every occasion! We’ve been blessed to receive some of these as gifts and love them! Take 15% off your order when you spend $25. Use code HAILMARRY15. Expires December 30, 2017. Order by December 20 (expedited shipping recommended) to receive by Christmas.
Get to Shopping!
Thank you to all of the artisans featured here for your beautiful products, your witness, helping us evangelize, and your generous discounts!
The first time I remember hearing the word epiphany was when Dustin Hoffman was correcting Bob Hoskins, who’d said he’d just had an “apostrophe.” Mr. Hoskins clarified his meaning by following up with, “Lightin’ has just struck my brain.”A lover of words even at a young age, I committed the word and its meaning to memory.
Some years later, I discovered American Girl. Pleasant Rowland was a pioneer, making these compelling historical fiction books that were exciting and challenging and educational. Then she threw in large dolls with accessories to act out the stories for a small fortune. She’s a genius. One of the original dolls from my youth (but not one of the original three dolls made, just in case any of you are also uber-fans of American Girl) was a Patriot girl with a Loyalist best friend in colonial Virginia, named Felicity Merriman. In her Christmas story, she attends a ball at the governor’s palace for Twelfth Night during “Christmastide.” It sounded so magical! I thought about how cool it would be to drag out Christmas celebrations for twelve days.
I’ve said before that Christmas decorations are like a dominant gene in my family. That said, my mom always leaves her Christmas tree up for nearly two weeks after Christmas. Whenever I was a child and I wondered why she kept the tree up, she’d say that she did so because her grandmother left it up until “Old Christmas.” I wondered when they’d changed the date of Jesus’ birthday and how that was even possible to do.
Sadly for my faith, these exposures were all that I was aware of about the Epiphany we celebrate on January 6 in the Catholic Church. It wasn’t until much later, into my latter twenties, that I realized what it was all about. I realized that my great-grandmother’s “Old Christmas” was the day after Felicity’s Twelfth Night and I wondered what the correlation was. Fast forward through some research and I discovered that it was a feast in the church called Epiphany and it has many traditions associated with it.
So here’s a little history lesson: Twelfth Night is literally the evening of the twelfth day of Christmas and the night before we celebrate the Epiphany. Similar to Halloween and Christmas Eve, which both hold celebrations in anticipation of the next day’s feast, Twelfth Night is an anticipatory event. It began as a festival in Medieval England, and then all of Europe, where the nobility and the peasants would come together, and for the night, assume the other’s station in life.
The specifics of Twelfth Night celebrations varied throughout Europe, but all of them included a cake, called either a Twelfth Night cake or a Three King’s Cake. It was baked with one bean inside it (or, in France, with a bean and a pea). Whoever received the piece with the bean was declared the king of the feast (until midnight); likewise with the pea, a queen was declared.
This cake was not originally the same as the Mardi Gras King Cake, but it has become associated with the celebration of Epiphany in modern America due to its popularity in celebrations of Epiphany in New Orleans. In that kind of cake, a baby symbolizing Jesus is hidden in the cake for someone to find. Wassail, a delicious alternative to hot chocolate and coffee this time of year, was the customary drink at these festivals. It’s aromatic and warm and delicious—and kid-friendly, to boot.
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
Epiphany itself is a celebration of more than just merriment and peasants being kings. It’s a celebration within the church of the Three Kings, Three Wise Men, or the Magi. Their story can be found in Matthew 2:1-12. According to the NASB Revised Edition commentary in Matthew 2, the Magi in Matthew’s gospel were “astrologers.” It also says that the word magi originally referred to a “Persian priestly caste” but was later used to describe “those who were regarded as having more than human knowledge.”
Their story, summarized, is that a star appeared to them in their native land in the east. There was a belief among them and foretold in the Old Testament (see Numbers 24:17) that a star announced the birth of a new king. They traveled to King Herod in Jerusalem searching for the newborn king of the Jews. This freaked Herod out due him already being king and all. Herod asked his scribes about the child and was told he was born in Bethlehem. Herod then sent them to Bethlehem and asked them to send back word when they found the child. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but found Jesus and paid him homage, bringing him gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
It’s a really quick read and I love that respected, powerful, grown men sought out the baby Jesus to honor him. A baby. That’s rather humble, and I think that their humility is a great example for us all.
This year, I wanted to do more than celebrate Christmas in Advent and the first and second days of Christmas. That’s new for me. I love that the Catholic Church celebrates Christmas as a full season and not as a day. So I looked through catechist prep guides and different blogs, trying to figure out how to make this year’s celebration of Christmas—real Christmas, from Christmas Eve to Epiphany—something in my own house.
We decided to celebrate Epiphany on its vigil feast, Twelfth Night. Since it’s a new thing for all of us to celebrate, we considered making this a small, intimate, family celebration. But the more we thought about the traditional celebration, we decided to open our home to our friends and family as well. I’m pretty excited about it. I am going to prepare some homemade wassail and bake an allergy-friendly Twelfth Night cake with only a pea baked into it. Since it’s a feast I’m also serving a salad and making grilled chicken provencal alongside green beans, mashed sweet potatoes, and squash and onions.
After eating, we will read the story of the Magi from our family Bible to all who have come to celebrate. We’ve kept out one nativity scene that the kids can play with in the living room that doesn’t have our kings in it yet. On Twelfth Night, they’ll finally make their way to the manger (even though it’s a little early—our Jesus is always in the manger by Christmas Eve, too).
I have a friend who moves the three kings closer to the manger each of the twelve days of Christmas, and we started this on Christmas Day. It’s similar to Elf on the Shelf where I move them in unexpected places as they make their way to the manger…and they sometimes get lost.
They’ve hidden in the m&ms and with our Mickey’s Christmas Carol figurine set, too. They’ve also gotten into Christmas cookies. It’s been fun watching Little Miss find them each morning and seeing her face, and I love that it serves a liturgical purpose. I’m always looking for more liturgical tie-ins in our domestic church.
We will have a crown craft for the children to decorate and wear throughout the night. We’re also thinking of small gift bags with golden chocolate coins, meant to remind them of the gifts the Wise Men brought. Based on RSVPs, we’re expecting only girl children and I’m thinking of having them play Pretty, Pretty Princess, too, as a nod to the treasure brought by the Magi.
How do you celebrate Christmas for the entire season when the secular world tells you not to? Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter today if you haven’t already! We’ll be posting live pictures and more from our Twelfth Night celebration on Thursday, January 5. Join us!