our favorite Advent and Christmas traditions

Normally, since she's the oldest, we put Gen's perspective on here first.  But since Kat's perspective is chronologically first, we switched it up for this article.

kat's family - our advent traditions

Because we have been away from family for Christmas for the past two years (the only two Christmases we’ve been married), we don’t really have any traditions as far as Christmas Day and the days around Christmas are concerned.  We did go see the Nutcracker our first two years in Pittsburgh, and I love that tradition.  We’re not going this year because it’s hard for us to afford that and a babysitter all in one night.  But maybe in a year or two when Miriam is older, we can bring her with us to see it.  I hope that’ll be a family tradition that we stick with for a while.  While we don’t have too many Christmas season traditions, for the past two years we have had a few Advent traditions that we’ve developed as a little family.

Here's our Advent wreath.  When I went shopping for candles, I couldn't find pink and purple, so I improvised.

Here's our Advent wreath.  When I went shopping for candles, I couldn't find pink and purple, so I improvised.

  1. Making and lighting an Advent wreath.  This is an obvious one.  Most Catholic families do this anyway.  I make our wreath every year out of shavings from Christmas trees at the place where we buy our tree ever year.  I like to light the appropriate candles at every meal (usually just lunch and dinner, because Miriam and I eat breakfast at the coffee table) as a reminder of God’s presence.  It also helps me remember that we’re still in Advent, even though the rest of the world seems to be in full on Christmas mode.
  2. Doing some sort of Advent daily devotion.  I think the key here is the “daily” thing.  Advent seems to fly by so quickly that unless I have a daily reminder of the season of Advent, it’s hard or me to really enter in.  For the past few years (probably since high school), I’ve done a devotion based on Padre Pio’s letters from a book that my mom gave me.  I have absolutely loved it.  This year, I wanted to do a Marian consecration as a family, since I hadn’t renewed mine in a while and Jonathan has never done one before.  I also just wanted to consecrate our whole family to Jesus through Mary, which is something I haven’t done yet.  We are doing 33 Days to Morning Glory, which is a great way for someone like Jonathan, who was a little hesitant to do something so serious as Marian consecration, to learn about why it’s so valuable (and necessary, in my opinion) that we consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary.  This has been so fruitful for us.  Every night we set aside time to pray this together.  Admittedly, we should probably talk about it a little more than we do.  Usually we just end with the prayer of the day.  I think this would be even more fruitful if we had at least a brief discussion on the reflection of the day.  But even with how we’ve been doing it, it has been so beautiful for us.  We’ll finish on the Miriam’s feast day and two days after her birthday, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on January 1.
  3. Listening to Advent music.  The credit for this one goes all to Jonathan.  To be honest, I love Frosty the Snowman, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and other traditional “holiday music” so much that I’m fine not listening to Advent music (pagan, I know).  But then Jonathan pointed out to me once that it’s a good practice to listen to Advent music (even in addition to the traditional Christmas music on the radio) because it fosters a spirit of prayer and devotion.  This has proven to be the case for me.  I’m someone who enjoys praying with music, so turning on Advent Gregorian chant or Byzantine chant is something I find that lifts my soul towards heaven.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who thinks you should stay away from all things Christmas until after Christmas.  I exhausted all of my Netflix Christmas movie options about two weeks ago.  But when I do listen to prayerful Advent music, I find it reminds me of why this season is just so great.  Some suggestions include the following:
    • The Brilliance has Advent music on Spotify - my friend Meredith recommended them, and I LOVE their sound.
    • A friend of mine, Ali, recommended The Vigil Project, a group of Catholic musicians whose Advent music is absolutely beautiful.
    • Songs of Taize- Taize prayer is absolutely beautiful, and these Advent songs are perfection
    • Penny and Sparrow has some lovely Advent music in their Christmas Songs album
    • Gregorian Chant for Advent & Christmas (by The Gregorian Chant Schola Saint Meinrad Archabbey) - also on Spotify, this is heavenly
    • Byzantine Chant - the Byzantine Chant station on Pandora has been pretty good for me, but I don’t know much about Byzantine Chant, so if someone knows of a better/more Advent-focused station/playlist, let me know!

genevieve's family - our christmas traditions

                Our Christmas traditions are centered around Christmas Eve Vigil Mass. What amazes me is that every year, the evening seems to be exactly the same: the chill in the air walking in, the heat of all of the warm bodies packed in tightly together, the taffeta and velvet dresses with bows, the traditional music, the illicit Christmas pageant that stands in for the homily. The utter sameness of everything- comfort and joy. All of these traditions surround the best of all tradition- the Mass itself. When we sing “Joy to the World” for the recessional hymn, the phrase “and wonders of his love” brings tears to my eyes every year (and actually just now, as I typed that).

After Christmas Eve Vigil Mass, we go home, get into our matching pajamas, light a fire, put out cookies for Santa, and snuggle on the couch to read The Night Before Christmas. There is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking about this tradition, but it is so important to me. When Dalton and I were just dating, we had a conversation about our biggest dreams. Mine was to be surrounded by my husband and children on Christmas Eve, enacting the exact tradition just described. I can’t wait for Christmas Eve this year, even though Patrick is most definitely NOT into snuggling.

Dalton and I do a kicked-up version of our Date Night In on Christmas Eve. We don’t play games, but we do watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Another tradition is that I fall asleep during the song “When Love is Gone.”

On Christmas morning, we will wake up when Patrick does- usually 6:58 ON THE DOT- and I expect to nurse him and change his diaper in his room, where we will tell him that it’s a very special day. Then, as my family has done every Christmas morning for as long as I can remember, we will retrieve the various baby Jesuses from their various hiding spots and place them in their nativity scenes, singing “Happy Birthday.” We always did this before any present opening in the morning, and aside from the obvious importance of recognizing the real joy of the day before doing anything else, it was also especially fun to squint our eyes and run quickly past the gifts, so that we couldn’t see anything from Santa before singing.

After a morning of coffee drinking, pajama-wearing, gift-opening fun, I make breakfast, and every year, it’s the same. I pop some bacon in the oven and make bananas foster French toast. I’ve included the recipe, which does not skimp on butter and sugar BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS.

Bananas Foster French Toast

French Toast Ingredients:

  • Bread, 6 slices (I like brioche for this special occasion, but you can also use French bread, challah, or really whatever bread you have on hand. I should also mention here that you could also make pancakes or waffles and top it with the bananas foster if you are especially egg-averse, like Kath. Insert eye roll emoji.)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. butter (I like clarified butter for this step)

Bananas Foster Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tbsp. rum (bourbon will work too)
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter (I like Kerrygold for this step)
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar (you can use light or dark, either will taste good because rum and butter)
  • 1.5 tsp. vanilla extract.
  • 1+ bananas, preferably very ripe, sliced. (I like about 1.5 because I’m more about the butter and rum, but you can use as many as 4)
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • OPTIONAL:  Chopped nuts (Use as many or as few as you like. A handful is about what I add. I like pecans, but walnuts are good too)

You’ll need two large pans, or a griddle and a pan. Heat one griddle or pan over medium high heat. Heat the other pan over medium heat.

TOAST: Beat eggs, milk, vanilla and salt together until well combined. Place bread slices in egg mixture for a few seconds until soaked. When griddle/pan is heated, add clarified butter. Place bread slices in pan (don’t overcrowd) and allow to cook on both sides until golden brown. Set aside.

BANANAS FOSTER: When pan is heated, melt butter. Stir in sugar until just dissolved, then add vanilla, cinnamon, and rum to the middle of the pan. Add in nuts once the mixture starts to bubble, and keep stirring. Add the sliced bananas last until warmed through (about a minute), then remove mixture from heat. Note- this is the easy way to do a bananas foster, not the fun/dangerous flambe way. I’m not going to tell you how to do that because I don’t know, and also I care about your eyebrows.

Immediately pour mixture over toast and serve hot. Add bacon.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Gen's idyllic hearth that basically belongs in an English cottage.

Gen's idyllic hearth that basically belongs in an English cottage.