Advent is nearly upon us! Sometimes it’s easy to allow Christmas to eclipse the season of Advent entirely. Often times, rather than using it as a time of preparation for Christmas, it gets relegated to the waiting period before the Christmas season.

St Nicholas letter 2

The Church established this liturgical season of waiting and preparation to allow us to enter more deeply into the celebration of the miraculous birth of our Savior. It makes sense that we celebrate this event with more than just one day and similarly, it makes sense that the Church directs our hearts and minds towards prayerful preparation.

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This is not always easy to do, especially with young children. In my own childhood, I found it easy to get so excited just for one day of Christmas that I would be engrossed with the material preparations rather than the spiritual ones.

My sister and brother-in-law seem to have caught onto this notion as well, which is why they implemented their own traditions to keep their children’s focus on spiritual preparation for Christmas throughout the Advent season. One in particular that’s worth sharing is the practice of having their kids “write” letters to St. Nicholas, rather than just asking Santa Claus for presents.

Because their two oldest are only 4 and 2½ years-old, they simply tell Mom and Dad what to write based on some prompt such as, “What would you like to tell St. Nicholas?” “What prayer intentions do you have for him?” “What would you like for Christmas?” Then, Mom and Dad write them down and on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, they leave their shoes outside their door with the letters tucked inside. In the morning, they find that their letters have been replaced with chocolate coins to remind them that it’s sweet to prepare for Baby Jesus’ birth and remind them of the saint’s generosity.

St Nicholas letter

Their older son, Joseph, told St. Nicholas that he was excited Jesus was going to be born. He also asked that St. Nicholas pray for his family and bring him a remote control train set and told him he was thankful that he has food to eat.

Their youngest son, John Paul, on the other hand, hasn’t quite grasped the idea of writing a letter to someone he doesn’t know very well (or writing a letter at all) as evidenced here:

“Dear St. Nicholas, I am happy Jesus will be born (borrowed from his older brother). I would like a watch (from a joking prompt from his Dad). I already have a monkey, St. Nicholas, I would like a teddy bear. I already have a saint necklace (when we mentioned ‘St. Nicholas’ he though we were talking about the John Paul II medal he has strung on his amber teething necklace). Love, John Paul”

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I found it inspiring that their parents take the time to go beyond the easy, “You’d better be good otherwise Santa won’t bring you any presents” approach in preparing children for Christmas (though I’m sure they use that tactic, too). Rather than appealing to our selfish human nature –“What will I get out of this if I’m good?” – they challenge their boys to be good for goodness’ sake.

However, I’m sure that their telling the toddlers that St. Nicholas was also known for defending the truth by punching Arius the heretic in the face left a bold impression on them, too.

Something my parents did to help my siblings and I prepare for Christmas was through the practice of having a “Secret Santa.” At the beginning of Advent, we would draw names of one of our family members. Then all throughout Advent we would pray especially for that family member  and commit small, unseen acts of charity towards them (doing their chores for them, not getting into an argument with them). On Christmas Day, we got to reveal who our “Secret Santa” was by giving them a gift. Not only did this cut down on gifts, but it also taught us about sacrificial love and giving of ourselves.

What kind of Advent traditions do you have with your children or grandchildren? Are there some that you’ve found work better than others? Let us know!