Bishop Terry LaValley's Christmas Message

Celebrating Advent well requires preparation in advance, so the Family Life Office posts resources and tips to help families with their celebration of Advent.

We start a new liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent.    
Even though we’ve used readings from Cycle C throughout the 2022 calendar year, on Sunday, November 27, 2022 we begin using readings from Cycle A.
In the next section you will find activities related to the Advent Mass readings for each cycle.    
If you are wondering when to put up your Christmas tree, where you can purchase a Nativity Set, or why we put our shoes out on December 5th, you can find it here!  Whether you are looking for prayers, activities, background information or helpful hints, you are likely to find what you are interested in here.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for, let me know by emailing me at

The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, "to come to." Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a time for preparation for the celebration of the long-awaited coming of Christ. Advent is celebrated over the 4 Sundays preceding Christmas and can begin as early as November 27th or as late as December 3rd.

The celebration of Advent is rich in rituals and symbolism and is one of the best times for parents to help their families grow closer to God. The traditions that families establish during Advent build lasting memories and are an easy way for parents to catechize their children. Advent celebrated well helps children learn that the real meaning of the season is the coming of Christ, and it strengthens the family’s resolve not to get swept away by the secularized focus on materialism at this time of year.


Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath has four candles, 3 purple and one pink, each representing 1,000 years of waiting for Christ to appear. Each week starting on Sunday, another candle is lit, so that by the 4th week of Advent, all 4 candles are lit.

Purple is the liturgical color of the Advent season (the same as Lent), which represents penance.

The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (pronounced Gow-Day-Tay) means “rejoice” and on this day we celebrate that our waiting for Christmas is almost over. Rose is a liturgical color that is used to signify joy, so we light the rose candle on the third Sunday of Advent.

Although Advent wreaths come in different styles, the traditional circular wreath made of evergreens carries the added symbolization of eternal life in Christ.

Typically, families light the candles and say special prayers when they pray the blessing before dinner. There are many different prayer books that can be used with the Advent Wreath.

You can find some at this link: Advent Wreath

Find out how to make an Advent Wreath at this link:  Making an Advent Wreath

Advent Calendar

When I was a child Mom made an advent calendar (which I still have) out of felt. It had a Christmas Tree on the top and 25 pockets on the bottom. In the pockets were shapes cut our of felt that looked like Christmas Tree ornaments, and in fact, each day we were supposed to hang one ornament on the tree on the top of the calendar. Among the ornaments would be candy canes, candles, reindeer, a star, an angel, a teddy bear, a Christmas present, a dove, a mitten, a little manger, and a Santa Clause. It was a lot of fun and built up the excitement for us as kids. I don’t remember if we said special prayers for each ornament or if there were any special criteria for who got to take the ornaments out of the pockets and put them on the tree, but a simple ritual would be easy to come up with. 


Did you know that the first handmade Advent Calendar was created in 1851?  It followed other traditions of counting down the days until Christmas, such as making chalk marks over your door or hanging a small religious picture on your wall -- one each day of December until Christmas Eve.  One source says the first printed Advent Calendar was inserted into Austrian newspapers in 1904 as a gift for the readers, while yet another source claims the first printed Advent Calendar didn’t appear until 1908 in Germany.  Regardless of when or where, early Advent calendars had windows or doors that could be opened to reveal Bible verses related to the coming celebration of the birth of Christ.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s that chocolate treats began to appear behind the calendar’s doors and windows, making the wait for Christmas even sweeter!

Kriss Kringles (KK’s)

We used to pick names out of a hat on Thanksgiving. We were the Kriss Kringle to whomever we picked, and this meant praying for and being especially nice to that person throughout Advent so that, hopefully, by Christmas, he or she could guess you were their Kriss Kringle. In my family, each person would receive a gift from their Kriss Kringle on Christmas Eve. For us it was the first gift of Christmas, and we looked forward to coming home from the anticipated Mass, having dinner and opening our KK presents.

There are several variations to how this can be done, and many people call it Secret Santa.

Christmas Caroling

I think the practice of Christmas Caroling came from visiting one’s neighbors and wishing them well in hopes of receiving a gift from them. It developed into singing Christmas songs in public, usually going door to door through a neighborhood, or visiting a mall or nursing home and singing Christmas songs. I don’t see this nearly as much as I did when I was growing up. Christmas Caroling is a fantastic way to evangelize and lift people’s spirits. It’s a great community builder and it leaves lasting positive memories for children.

Before you go caroling, review these tips on Christmas Caroling etiquette.    

Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots."  It is a vehicle to tell the Story of God in the Old Testament, and to connect the Advent Season with the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history.
The Jessie Tree

Nativity Set

Displaying a Nativity scene in your home is a loved Christmas tradition for many Christian families. The Nativity scene tradition originated with St. Francis of Assisi in the year 1223 on Christmas Eve. A nativity scene, also called a crib, crèche, or manger scene, refers to any depiction of the birthplace of Jesus. Smaller sets have only a stable with Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, and various farm animals. Larger sets include shepherd boys, lambs, and the Three Wise Men. Traditionally, the figures in the nativity set are added gradually to recount the historical Christmas story. On December 24th the Baby Jesus is placed in the manger, and the following days the shepherds are added. On January 6th, Three Kings Day, the magi are also added near the manger scene. It is customary to keep the Nativity set on display until February 2nd, which is the end of the Epiphany.

Cotton Ball Crib

Here's another family Advent tradition for those with little ones. Build a simple crib for Jesus (Popsickle sticks, or an old cardboard shoe box). Get a large bag of cotton balls. Each evening, reflect on the day with your little ones and see if they had a good behavior day. If so, they get to add a cotton ball to the crib, and make it a little softer for Baby Jesus. (Sometimes it helps with the daytime behavior if you remind them during the day that unless they shape up, they won't get to put in a cotton ball that night.) Then on Christmas, you can have a little ceremony and put Baby Jesus in the soft crib that they helped to make.

Candy Canes

The candy cane began as a religious symbol.  There are several tales, but the most prominent one tells of a candy maker who wanted something that would be a symbol of witness for the birth, ministry and death of Jesus.  The pure white candy is said to represent the purity of Jesus’ birth and the sinless nature of the Savior.  It is made hard to remind us of the love and solid foundation God provides for us.  If held with the curved end down, it looks like the letter “J” for Jesus.  Held with the curve at the top, we are reminded of the shepherd’s crook used to gather in the sheep.  The red stripes on the candy remind us of the scourging Jesus received and the blood He shed for us.

St. Nicholas Day - December 6th

Don’t forget to put your shoes out the night before!

St. Nicholas

The real Santa Claus is called St. Nicholas.  He was born into a wealthy family in Turkey in 325 and orphaned at an early age.  He had always read his Bible, and decided he could best serve others by using his inheritance to help the poor in the area.  One day, he heard about a farmer who was so poor he was unable to feed his family.  Rather than starve, he decided to take his three daughters into town to sell them.  Nicholas heard about the poor man’s plight, and the night before he was to make the journey to sell his daughters, Nicholas visited the farmer’s house.  All was dark, so Nicholas quietly slipped three bags of money through the window and crept away without saying a word to anyone.  The farmer awoke the next morning to discover that he would not have to sell his daughters after all.  Because he was known as a kind and generous man, it didn’t take long for people in the region to associate Nicholas with the gift left for the farmer, and many attempted to mimic his quiet generosity.  Over time, Nicholas entered the priesthood, and eventually became a bishop.  He continued to practice remarkable acts of kindness, setting a fine example for others, often reminding them that the gift was in the giving rather than in the receiving.   Today, young people all over the world wake up on December 6th, St. Nicholas’ feast day, to discover that their shoes have been filled with prayers, religious medals, candies and other treats while they were asleep.

O Antiphons

I’m a little reluctant to share this one, but…

One reason my children love Advent is because we replace their normally longer bed time prayers with one verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s easy to learn and since we sing it every night, by the end of Advent even the youngest one can join in. When I was a Principal of a Catholic School, I replaced the morning prayers during Advent in exactly the same way and invited anyone that wanted to sing to join me. By the end of Advent, my office was packed with children and adults that wanted to sing this with me.

Here’s a great article on the O Antiphons. The O Antiphons are seven precious jewels of our Catholic Liturgy, counting down the last seven days before Christmas with building anticipation. The title O Antiphons is simply because each phrase begins with an “O”.

Santa Lucia - December 13th

Did you know that in Sweden, the Christmas season begins with the Feast of Santa Lucia on December 13th?  Custom has it that a young girl dressed in white, wearing a wreath of candles on her head, travels about the area serving coffee and sweet saffron rolls to all she meets.  Apocryphal texts tell us that in the early days of Christian persecution, Lucia carried food to people hiding in dark underground tunnels.  To light the way, she wore a candlelit wreath on her head.  Known for her courage and desire to bring hope in the darkest of times to those in need, Santa Lucia is certainly a saint whose life we should celebrate!

Las Posadas

A wonderful Mexican Christmas tradition, las posadas literally translates in English as "the inns" or "the lodgings" and symbolizes the Biblical journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

The nine-day celebration lasts from December 16 to Christmas Eve (Noche Buena or "Holy Night") and includes a candle-lit procession of children and parents reenacting Mary and Joseph's journey through Bethlehem.

Decorating the Christmas Tree

When I was growing up we decorated on December 13th because it’s my brother’s birthday. The family down the street waited until Christmas Eve. Others had theirs up on Thanksgiving. Now that I have small children who like to pull the tree and ornaments down, I try to delay putting up the tree until a few days before Christmas.

When do people decorate the Christmas tree?
A recent poll gave these results:
Thanksgiving weekend – 47%
Dec. 1 to Dec. 15 – 37%
Dec. 16 to Dec. 23 – 12%
Christmas Eve – 2%
It’s up all year! – 1%

When Should You Put Up Your Christmas Tree?

When Should You Take Down Your Christmas Tree?

Trees that Tell a Story

20 + C + M + B 23

Did you know that, in the traditions of our Eastern brothers and sisters, people bless their homes for the New Year?  Take the time as a family to bless your own home this holiday season.  Using a piece of chalk, gather near your door and write somewhere on the inside of the doorway the symbols you see above.  The number of the year is split at the beginning and the end, and the letters you see there stand for the names of the three wise men -- Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  They also stand for “Christus mansionem benedicat” meaning “May Christ bless this house.”  The three crosses you see stand for “saint”.  Keep that in mind as you write and simply ask Christ to bless your home, all who inhabit it, and all who visit it.