LTHOUGH I GREW UP Catholic, I never truly understood the season of Advent. Growing up, “Christmas Season” began immediately after Thanksgiving and consisted of decorating the house with an army of Santas, putting up the tree, and shopping for presents. It was not until I had my own children and matured in my faith, that I began to understand how special Advent is and how set apart it should be from Christmas.
“Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Mark 1:2-3)
Five years ago, Advent became extra special to our family because it marks the very first time we attended the Traditional Latin Mass; the advent of our family’s new spiritual journey into the Mass, growing deeper in love with our Lord in the Eucharist, and discovering the ancient roots of our faith. As we navigate through this season, the secular world bombards us with decorated Christmas trees, “holiday music” on every station, and house after house drenched in festive lights and projected swirling stars. I know…I’m preaching to the choir! But this is what I lived growing up. This is what my children see constantly. This is what I am fighting.
Five years into our transition to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite and into homeschooling, I feel we’ve been able to create, cultivate, and embrace an Advent atmosphere in our home. Not only that, but it’s been a joy to see my children take ownership of these traditions. They know it is a time of preparation and expectation, a joyful waiting for our Lord. They can sense the penitential aspect of Advent through the things that are lacking within our home, compared to the secular holiday season: no Christmas music, no Christmas decorations, no Christmas tree (until Gaudete Sunday), and no Christmas shopping (its been done prior to the season).
Instead, we spread an Advent feast, in the hope that they carry on these traditions as part of their Catholic identity. We pray the St. Andrew novena, light the Advent wreath, adorn the Jesse tree, read Advent books, and learn Advent hymns. As we partake in these few activities, we attempt to journey with Mary and Joseph during the first Advent. 1
Adventide Hymn Study
Last year, we studied O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Creator Alme Siderum during Advent. It was my first time strategically planning an Advent specific hymn study, so I went with tunes I was already familiar with. The children learned the songs easily, memorized them quickly, and could not stop singing them as we lit our wreath each night.
This year, with the Brébeuf hymnal as a resource, we were able to learn some new advent songs. As I write this, we’ve been studying On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry, O Come, Divine Messiah, and The Heavens, Savior, Open Tear. This hymnal puts the treasure of Catholic hymnody at my fingertips. Furthermore, these three songs have already been recorded and are available for anyone to listen to and learn, making this easily accessible to those of us who don’t know how to play an instrument or sight-read:
FREE REHEARSAL VIDEOS :
“On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” = #654
“O Come, Divine Messiah” = #657
“The Heavens, Savior, Open Tear” = #659
Our hymn Study Routines
Preparations: After selecting a hymn, I try to familiarize myself with the tune before introducing it to the children. There are an increasing number of hymn recordings now available, with more in the works. This is not a necessity, but is has been very helpful for us.
1. To start, we try to understand the words. What does the hymn say? What do the words mean? Each child is given a hymnal or a printed copy of the lyrics to follow along. I slowly read through them and they listen. Then we discuss the hymn. Mostly, I bring up specific phrases or words to illustrate interesting points or talk about theology. Often, I clarify vocabulary, if needed.
2. We then listen to the hymn. I will sing it or play a recording for them to listen. This first time is just to experience and enjoy it.
3. Finally, I invite them to sing. We sing it three times together. At this early stage, it is only an invitation; they don’t have to sing if they are not comfortable yet. I encourage them to follow along with the music and practice sight-singing but there’s always an auditory anchor. This is also a great opportunity for your budding pianists to play accompaniment as the family sings.
4. From then on, the hymns are sung every day together during our morning basket time. We may focus on one song at a time or alternate between different songs every other day; it really depends on the length of the song and the time we have.
Extension activities: While not essential, hymns are easily extended into other academic areas. I have already described how our studies may encourage sight-singing, organ accompaniment, and general musicality. Lyrics can be used for copy work. Verses or entire hymns can be used for recitation. The more poetic texts can be used as poetry for memorization. Not to mention the deep theological conversations you can have from the beautiful and lyrical hymns of our Church.
Finally, as the melodies carve lines into our souls and the words become second nature, we enjoy them throughout the season. The Advent hymns we’re currently learning, we will sing during the lighting of our Advent candle, or after we pray the rosary. Sometimes we may even hear these hymns at Mass! That’s the point! They surround our family as part of our Adventide identity.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 This is not an exhaustive list of Advent activities. Check out even more awesome ideas by Dr. Tappan.