Advent 2022 is just around the corner and we’re thinking about the unique opportunity it brings to pass on our Catholic faith within our schools. Here are 7 Catholic Traditions to make space for Advent in your school this year.
Though it’s only early November, you’ve probably already seen sightings of “The Holiday Season” in your local shopping centre. Freshly decorated Christmas trees and new Holiday decor greet us at the entrance of the big box stores these days, inviting us to enter into the hubbub that is modern day Holiday season.
But before we dive in, entirely, to the whirlwind of endless shopping lists, Christmas light hanging and festive parties, now is the perfect time to take a moment to reflect on what kind of season this will be and how we will go about entering into it.
November 27th will mark the first Sunday of Advent – one of the most significant liturgical seasons of the entire year. In contrast to the busyness of the commercial holiday season, Advent invites us to slow down, reflect and pray about the significance of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
This annual invitation from the Church is a beautiful opportunity to guide students into the ‘Advent rhythm’ of slowing down and reflecting on the birth of Christ.
One of the most profound reflections we can draw from Advent and share with our students is that He truly came for everyone. Not only those who can afford new Christmas lights this year, not only those who will have big family gatherings or find countless boxes under a perfectly decorated tree on Christmas – but for everyone.
How can we practically share the beauty of this Advent season in our schools?
Here are 7 Catholic traditions to allow your school to experience the peace, tranquility and prayer of this beautiful season.
1. Create Visible Signs of a Season Change
“These special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.”― Brian D. McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices
When we walk into Mass on the first Sunday of Advent, the first thing we’ll notice is the change of colours from ordinary time green to Advent purple. The changing colours and symbols play a significant part in helping us notice a change in season – and this is a beautiful way to engage students as well. Having an Advent wreath and display in the main hallway and adding purple banners throughout the school will help students remember daily that we’re in a special season. Using battery operated Advent candles and lighting the appropriate candle each week is an excellent way to draw attention to the individual weeks of Advent and what they represent.
2. Display a Manger Scene
“I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares.”– Pope Francis
The 2022 reality is that many students won’t lay eyes on a manger scene in their home or in the bustling stores throughout December. Having a manger scene set up inside (or outside) the school helps us remember the centre of this season and why we’re celebrating. It allows students to become interested in the dynamic surrounding the birth of Christ and to ask questions about this significant event. Both the manger scene and Advent wreath are wonderful springboards for educational conversations and prayerful reflection within classrooms.
3. Schedule a Prayer & Reconciliation Service
”Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men.”St. Ambrose of Milan
It’s always a busy season for schools, wrapping up before the Christmas break, but prioritizing a prayer service and offering the sacrament of reconciliation is a beautiful opportunity to invite students into prayer and quiet. Reconciliation services are often offered at Churches during Advent to encourage people to prepare for Christmas; inviting students into a service at school helps pass on this tradition and make the connection for them between our Catholic faith and Advent. This is also a wonderful opportunity for local priests to engage with your school community and speak to the students about Advent.
4. Create a Jesse Tree
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”Isaiah 11: 1 – 3
The Jesse Tree is an amazing Advent tradition which takes you on a journey throughout the Old Testament and highlights the waiting, hoping and praying for the birth of the Messiah. This rich resource is an excellent learning tool for children (and a great refresher for staff!) and can easily become an annual tradition at your school. A simple google search will land you lots of resources and age-specific printouts for your very own Jesse Tree creation.
5. Celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6
“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”― St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra
Many young people don’t realize how many of our modern-day celebrations are actually rooted in Catholic tradition. The beautiful story of St. Nicholas brings a whole new meaning to the tradition of Santa Clause and promotes important themes like generosity and care for the poor during Advent. Christians have been celebrating this feast for centuries and a little bit of research will take you to many of the traditions which can easily be adopted in a school setting!
6. Give to Those Most In-Need
“At this Christmas, when Christ Comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”St. Mother Teresa
Advent and Christmas provide many opportunities for thinking outside of ourselves and paying attention to the needs of those around us. Advent is the perfect time to ask your school community to gather food for the local food bank or collect toys to donate to local charities.
7. Classroom prayer time
“Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.”Pope Francis
Advent is the perfect time for teachers to schedule in time for prayer at the beginning of each day. A classroom display with an advent wreath, scripture and Advent colours creates a gathering place for students to pray and learn. This simple 5 – 10 minute commitment will not only teach students the importance of prayer but will allow teachers to remember and experience the fruit of beginning each day with prayer!
We know that many of our schools have long-standing Advent traditions which are bringing light and meaning to this season. Our prayer is that this Advent becomes an opportunity for all of us to remember to slow down, reflect on the significance of the coming of Christ and prepare our hearts for His coming.