In our parishes and homes, we partake in Advent traditions that help us prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. The Catholic Anchor asked Archdiocese schools to explain the Advent traditions they foster to help students at all grade levels observe this liturgical season.
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton School celebrates Advent in many different ways. As a school, we light the Advent candles and sing the Advent song at our Friday assembly with our sixth graders leading us. We also collect donations such as food, diapers, toiletries, and cleaning supplies for Clare House as a school, and our 4th graders deliver the goods. We celebrate individually in the classrooms for Advent.
In Pre-K, the students add a piece of a manager to the nativity scene during Advent. In Kindergarten, the students make prayer jars and put prayers in for people they want to pray for and pray for them during Advent. They also make holiday cards for the Pioneer Home.
The first graders go to the Horizon House and sing Christmas carols. They learn about the importance of Christmas with an emphasis on Jesus. The second graders learn about the Advent candles (Hope, Love, Joy, & Peace) and the significance of each candle.
The third graders make their own Advent wreath to take home to share with their families. The fifth graders have a daily Advent activity and reading. They also research how Christmas is celebrated in different countries.
The second through sixth-grade classes go to confession to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. On the day before break, we celebrate as a whole school by singing Christmas carols and share in the joy of the season. The Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton staff and families would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
At Saint Mary’s Catholic School in Kodiak, we have a long-standing Advent tradition of gathering all the children and families in our foyer to surround the Advent wreath each school morning. We usually begin with singing a traditional Advent song such as “O Come, O come, Emmanuel” or “Light the Advent Candle.”
We like to incorporate our school-wide annual theme such as, “Care for God’s Creation” or “Love one another as I have loved you.” To do this, the children from each class contribute their drawings to create a large advent calendar with students’ drawings behind each “window.” Every school day leading up to Christmas break, a child’s drawing is revealed, and the artist comes forward to share how their picture represents the theme and how it ties into the season of preparing for Jesus’ birth.
With the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it is invaluable for us to remind ourselves and our children to slow down, reflect, and notice the beauty of it all. Candles lit during our dark days remind us of God’s hope presented to us in the baby Jesus and for us to continue to BE that light through our kind words and selfless deeds.
Our Lady of the Valley
At Our Lady of the Valley Catholic School, we have many traditions in each classroom.
In Mrs. Spies’ Preschool classroom and Mrs. Leslie Vary’s Kindergarten classroom, they teach religion lessons to the entire group. During Advent, they create an Advent wreath, and on the first day of each week, they light a candle on the wreath and explain the candle’s meaning (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love). The rest of the week’s lessons focus on each theme: what does it mean, how can we show these virtues and reading scripture verses. Each candle is lit during the first day of each week. It is lit only during the short lesson, but the real flame adds excellent dramatic effect and captures their usually limited attention. They find the wreath, number and colors of the candles provide appropriate symbolism of the true meaning of Advent and preparing their minds and bodies for the coming of Jesus.
Preparing a Jesse Tree is a tradition in Mrs. Deborah Waisanen’s and Mrs. Simona Benshetler’s first-grade class. They start on the first school day in December. Four to five tree branches are collected and placed in a base decorated with a pretty Christmas ribbon. The vase is then set on the fireplace mantle with a candle at each side. Every day, a different student is in charge of hanging a paper tree ornament decorated with symbols from various Bible stories from the Old Testament, leading up to the birth of Jesus. After recess, they dim the lights in the classroom, turn on the candles, gather around the fireplace, and hang the ornament for the day, while the teacher reads the corresponding Bible story.
Second graders in Mrs. Lund’s class embrace the meaning of the Christmas nativity set as inspired by St. Francis 800 years ago. Students continue this Advent tradition of creating their own nativity set by using simple items such as glue, paper, straw, boxes, sticks and characters which they colored and decorated. The tradition of making a shadow creation is a favorite of the students as they recall the story of the first Christmas. Students will write their version of our Lord’s birth and share the Christmas story with younger students in the school during Advent. The nativity shadow boxes will hopefully inspire students to connect with the history of this cherished Catholic tradition. It may even be a tool for meditation on humility, simplicity and the poverty of Christ. The students will long remember that their time-honored Advent traditional creation originated from a Catholic saint. Thank you, St. Francis, for giving us the Nativity Scene or Crèche.
Third and fourth graders in Mrs. Brenda Alemans’s class are using the Advent reflections from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, as she is the patron saint of the classroom. The students take turns reading the daily messages. Battery operated candles are lit in order, and students talk about what each candle means as they prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
Fifth and sixth graders in Mrs. Heather Grisso’s class celebrate the Penitential Season of Advent by discussing The Word Incarnate. They learn how Christ so loved us that He came down to share in our timeline, our history, and our humanity to deliver us the gift of eternal salvation. Each student makes their own paper Jesse Tree as we discuss the Root of Jesse and Christ’s Lineage. Students are always amazed at how Christ became part of our timeframe here on Earth, even though God Himself is timeless. The meaning and symbols of the Jesse Tree ground the students’ faith, growing in the knowledge of how much God loves us that He became true flesh just like us and has His own Family Tree. We also celebrate important feast days within the Advent Season, such as Saint Nicholas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Juan Diego, and Saint Lucy, as well as light our Advent Wreath.
In the seventh and eighth grade class, they enjoy several Advent traditions. Each year they have fun playing games like Advent Headbandz, decorating and sharing stories behind the Jesse Tree ornaments, and reflecting on the four themes of Advent while watching Dynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever videos. They also celebrate the feast days of Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia that fall within the Advent season.
One of the greatest blessings we have here at Lumen Christi Catholic High School is the opportunity to grow closer to God through intentional observance of the Church’s Liturgical seasons. As December quickly approaches, we look forward to the many Advent traditions that are woven into our school to help us prepare for the gift of Christ.
Through our “Jesse Tree” prayer service each day, we tell the story of our Salvation across four thousand years of history. Our students have fashioned ornaments that represent significant events in our Salvation history, and also composed prayers and reflections for each event. Starting on Monday, December 2nd, our student body, staff and faculty gather together in the main hallway, around our Jesse Tree, before classes begin each morning. As one student leads the school student body in prayer and reflection, another student places an ornament depicting this Biblical event on the tree. When students pass the Jesse Tree throughout the day, going to and from classes, they are visibly and continuously reminded of our expectant joy leading to Christ’s birth.
In addition to the Jesse Tree celebration, our annual Advent Penance service is held during the last days before school is out for Christmas break. Again we all come together to pray, to give thanks, and to ask forgiveness. Our service begins with music and the Liturgy of the Word, followed by a student-led examination of conscience. This examination of conscience is rooted in the virtues of our Blessed Mother’s life and example. Students and adults are then invited to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, after which they light candles and place them on the altar around the Blessed Sacrament. This candle is a visual sign of God’s grace and forgiveness.
While the Jesse Tree and our Advent Penance service are our two major activities, throughout Advent, we also prepare ourselves in many other small ways. For example, Advent wreaths can be found adorning many classrooms. Students write Christmas cards and letters to our veterans deployed overseas during the holidays and collect food for those in need. We create “Manna” survival bags to give out to our homeless brothers and sisters and visit retirement communities to set up Christmas decorations for the residents. Last year, our students created prayer magnets for the Survivors of Suicide Group’s Christmas remembrance.
Group members were so touched by this small gesture that they sent thank you notes to our students and asked us to make them again this year. Additionally, on December 6th, our community celebrates the tradition of St. Nicholas Day with prayer and traditional treats.
As the days until Christmas grow fewer each week, our community intensifies the light of Christ. Our students experience preparation for Christmas and Christmas itself through the loving, compassionate and merciful eyes of Jesus.