Advent is from the Latin adventus, which means "coming" and is associated with the four weeks of preparation for Christmas.
Advent blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the birth of Christ.
During Advent, we are called upon to:
1) prepare ourselves to worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
2) make our souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace
3) make ourselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
Advent is a season of waiting, a season filled with hope. Here are twelve tips that will help you and your family keep this season holy:
1. Use an Advent calendar and/or a wreath to mark this time of preparation. Pray Advent prayers with the family and the rosary when you light up the candle on the wreath. Sing 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' throughout Advent.
2. Keep outdoor lights and decorations simple, using religious CHRISTmas scenes like the Nativity or a star.
3. Use a Jesse tree or an Advent tree.
4. Have your Christmas tree blessed. Remind your children that the tree is a Christian symbol and relates to many aspects of our faith.
5. Let your children know that "Santa Claus" is another name for the real St. Nicholas and tell them his story. Celebrate the day. Encourage your children to leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors on Dec. 5. When they awaken, they will find small gifts like candy or fruit if they’ve been good.
6. Participate in the Giving Tree at church. Have your children buy a gift to donate to children in need or perform some service for the poor or elderly.
7. Put a Nativity set in a prominent place in your home, but only put out some of the animals. You can put the other statues out, but in another place in your home. Each week, read a little from the Christmas story in Luke's Gospel, and move the statues a little closer.
8. Have the children place a piece of straw in the manger for each good deed they do during Advent as a gift to the baby Jesus.
9. Take the entire family, when possible, to daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and to the sacrament of Reconciliation.
10. Light a candle before the Blessed Mother when visiting the Blessed Sacrament.
11. The Mary candle: Some families have the custom of decorating the Christ candle with a blue veil on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On this great feast, others place a candle with a blue ribbon before a statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin, whose “yes” to God enabled our Lord’s coming at Christmas. The candle is lit during meal times to serve as a delightful reminder of Mary’s eager expectation of the “Light of the World.”
12. St. Lucy cakes: The feast of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, is on December 13th. This marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden. Her life story can be found in most saints books, as can the recipe for the traditional cakes. The symbolism is rich and her life story worthwhile reading.
Here are some great Advent links:
Catholic Mom: Advent and Christmas Resources
Catholic Traditions for Advent and Christmas
Prayers and Customs of Advent and Christmas
Advent Musts and Movies