I want to feast on chocolate coins. Being a good Catholic, you might argue that my faith essentially requires it and that the number of chocolate coins I eat has a direct correlation to how seriously I venerate St. Nicholas. Growing up, my family didn’t have this tradition. We never put our shoes by the fireplace the night before his feast day, never woke to a treasure trove the next morning. To this day, I’m still disappointed in my parents.
When I became Catholic, I embarked on a learning curve about Advent — how it’s a liturgical season in its own right and how it simply won’t do to ignore it and skip to Christmas. At first, trying to maintain the spirit of Advent was difficult. The neighbors already had their Christmas lights up. Their living rooms were jam-packed with Christmas trees and dancing Santas. It made it feel like Advent was a chore we had to get through before joining all the other kids who were already playing. We knew about the Advent wreath and the Advent calendar. These traditions are nice, but not enough to make Advent feel like a real season. It felt like we were forcing ourselves to wait.
Of course, waiting is the point. Waiting for our Lord. Preparing our hearts. Building the virtue of hope. The waiting we’re supposed to be doing in Advent, though, should be active. It should be joyful.
Then we discovered St. Nicholas and a family tradition kids will remember for the rest of their lives. It brings not only the joy of candy but an opportunity to make the life of a saint come alive. St. Nicholas brings with him all the virtues of Advent — generosity, kindness and love of the family.
After that, we discovered the O Antiphons, which are chanted parts of evening prayer in the breviary that come right before the Magnificat. You’re probably already familiar with the O Antiphons since they form the verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” In our family, we have a Christmas ornament for each antiphon and, during the eight days before Christmas, we sing one verse each night and place the ornament on the tree.
We also discovered the feast of St. Lucy. On that day, the girls dress up like St. Lucy and the boys decorate star hats. They make their parents breakfast and deliver it to them in bed. It’s a perfect holiday! At our parish, we’ve started celebrating Lucy with a big candlelit procession. I consider it one of the highlights of the year.
Finally, we discovered the Rorate Caeli Mass, which is a votive Mass to the Blessed Virgin. The Mass takes place entirely by candlelight and, if you time it right, the Mass starts in darkness and the sun rises at the time of the Eucharistic consecration.
There’s a beauty to all these traditions, and if we practice them, they make Advent a season of joyful expectation. It’s the perfect way to prepare for Christmas.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.