How can my kids and I get more out of Advent this year?

Many churches provide special events and activities during Advent. These are worthwhile as they will get you into the spirit of Advent. Beyond what is offered at your parish or school, here are my top 10 ways to deepen your experience of Advent. These are ideas you can easily use with your children as well:

Top 10 ways to get more out of Advent for yourself and your family

1. Remember this is all about the redeemer of the world, our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amid the sales, shopping, meals, decorations and out-of-town guests, it is easy to lose sight of the fact this is supposed to be a time for spiritual preparation. Think of it as four weeks of preparation for a one-night retreat (actually the Christmas season lasts longer; remember the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas”). Remember for little kids to keep it hands-on. Visit this page on for a ideas like crafts, coloring, making cookies, etc.

2. Meditate on the Advent Gospels: First Sunday Mt 24:37-44: You must be ready, Second Sunday Mt 3:1-12: John the Baptist, Third Sunday Mt 11:2-11: Are you the one? The blind see, the lame walk. Fourth Sunday Mt 1:18-24: Joseph’s dream about Mary and Jesus.  Complete readings for each Sunday in Advent can be found at

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3. Look at it from the point of view of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the unexpected annunciation by the angel, the trip to her cousin Elizabeth, the Magnificat, the trip to Bethlehem during the end of her pregnancy, the birth of the babe in a stable, all the events after the birth, the flight to Egypt, the return to Nazareth.

4. Look at it from the point of view of St. Joseph: the confusion of Mary’s miraculous conception, the comfort of the angel’s message in a dream, the census and the trip to Bethlehem, not finding a place for his pregnant wife, the angel’s message to escape to Egypt and to return to Nazareth.

5. Consider the symbolic time of the winter season: how the darkness grows and the light shrinks, how the light of the world, Jesus, is about to be born and the light begins to conquer the darkness.

6. If it is possible and safe, use an Advent wreath: light one candle for each Sunday in Advent, say a prayer as found here:

7. Take your own “second collection” at home: it could be nickels and dimes or it could be toys or clothes that are in good shape but that you don’t use or need any more. These can be donated to a Catholic crisis pregnancy center or another charity.

8. The first Sunday in Advent begins the church’s new year. Think about how this new church year, which begins Dec. 1, 2013, will be different than the last. Do a little examination of conscience such as those found here: for families, for the new year

9. Get ready to get pregnant. No, not that way! I mean cultivate your relationship with Christ, so that you ask him to fill you in such a way that this Christmas, he will be born of you spiritually. This, after all, is our sacred mission, to bring Christ into the world by our own “fiat,” our own yes to God’s plan, and by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.

10. Get ready to give birth and raise the child Jesus. If the child Jesus were really part of your family, how would things be different? Would you speak differently? Would you be more motivated to make some much needed changes? Would you act more kindly? Or with more patience?

This is part of the beautiful depth of this season, that Christ desires so much to fill us with his Spirit that we will give birth to him in our thoughts, words and actions, and act like he really is a part of our lives. As disciples, that is precisely where he is and precisely what we are called to do.

You have 24 days from the start of Advent until Christmas Eve. Make a conscious choice to do something different or extra this year. Whether you choose #8, make an examination of your last year and your next year as it relates to your faith, or whether you choose #7, take a second collection for a needy family with your kids, keep in mind that #1, it’s a time of spiritual reflection, recollection and preparation for the birth of our Savior and the light of the world.

(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Patrick Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes, a doctoral candidate at Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Ill., is also in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.)