The Holidays: doesn’t it seem that the whole “whirled” (er, “world”) runs them all smack-dab together now?

The commercials, the radio (do you have one of those local stations that is ALREADY playing nothing but Christmas music? We do!!), and the store fronts won’t let you forget it — and the kids are getting excited, so they won’t let you forget it either!

There is a sense of “beginning again” around this time of year as these holidays loom, isn’t there? Seeing family you haven’t seen in awhile, trying to get relationships re-established, making this year’s Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas better and fresher than last year’s. This time that is always full of neighbors…which Our Lord tells us we must love as ourselves…the closest neighbors being our family which we must encounter before we can encounter Him in our hearts at Christmas.

Which is why, I’m sure, the Church year doesn’t begin on January 1st, but on the first day of Advent, which this year falls on Dec 3rd–ten days after Thanksgiving.

That’s why it is now that our souls feel like it is time for “New Year’s Resolutions,” I think.

Usually, as hubbub and chaos of this time ensues, I find that everything is over before I really get a chance to reflect on the meaning of these Holy Days, these Holidays. My best laid plans to really teach my kids what this time is all about get pushed aside and before we know it we are packing up the manger after Epiphany and trying to sneak in some lessons as we wrap the Baby Jesus in tissue paper.

The problem of finding time to reflect on the Holidays and celebrate the actual meaning of the spiritual reality can be actually compounded and complicated by extended family who may not acknowledge the religious reasons for celebrating. As the world says: “Don’t talk about religion or politics,” and everyone will get along just fine.

But–that’s not right, is it?

We yearn in our hearts to express our thanks and to share the gifts we have been given…somehow…with our families, our friends, our neighbors…and that is really as it should be, when the Church and the world (“I was tempted to say, “whirled”!) both conspire to bring us together…to share what?…to share how?

Christ wants to be born anew in our hearts this Christmas — meaning we need to begin that re-birth in “Thanksgiving.” Just as Mary journeyed with Joseph to Bethlehem (on the back of a donkey, and pregnant!!!!) before the birth of her Son, we are invited to journey–not alone, but with the family God gave to us–toward the birth of our Savior-the Birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts!

This is the spiritual reality of the preparation we are participating in! As we prepare the presents and the cookies we ought to be preparing our hearts through prayer, work, and sacrifice.

But between the busy, the cooking, and the differing traditions (and maybe views) of family members, how are we to bring Christ into our family celebrations? How do we really take the time to prepare our hearts and our children’s hearts for the birth of Christ? How do we share what we are really, truly thankful for? How do we truly celebrate Advent? How do we share the gift of Christ with our families?

A few years ago I worked for Holy Heroes, and an email from a customer gave me one idea of how to build traditions into family celebrations that will put the focus back on Christ — without “being pushy” or “preaching” to our family members.

She uses our Advent Candle Kit every year as an activity to do with all the children when the families get together for Thanksgiving celebrations.

It may or may not open up a non-confrontational opportunity to easily and comfortably talk about the joy of living the Faith, the real wonder of the “holy day season,” a “new evangelization” through those most able to comprehend it: our children. The kit comes with everything you need to roll your own candles. Along with wax, wicks, and Advent prayers, the kit explains the symbolism of the Beeswax:

“The Wax of an Advent Candle represents the flesh of Christ, the wick is His soul, and the Flame His divinity, which absorbs and dominates both. The flesh of Christ is pure, just as beeswax is the sweetest and purest wax because it is extracted from flowers…Throughout Advent the flame burns, expending itself, sacrificing itself, just as Christ sacrificed himself.”

So, why don’t you just bring each family the candle kit to Thanksgiving dinner as a fun activity for the kids? It’s clean, the big kids can help the little ones, and each family leaves with Advent candles!

You would be gently re-introducing Christ into your family celebration.

This really moved me! I know that my extended family would enjoy this activity and would also welcome the meaning behind it. This customer has inspired me to try a little harder to invite Christ into our family fun. Along with their cousins, this Thanksgiving my children will be rolling Advent Candles and decorating Advent Wreaths!

Every year the Sacrifice Manger activity is so popular during Advent Adventure that Holy Heroes started selling sacrifice mangers (at half-price right now!) in “Family 5-packs” so they can be handed out to groups, classes, parishes, in addition to each family member having a personal manger to fill with sacrifices for Baby Jesus all during Advent. Believe me, you’ll find your home positively enhanced by your children’s focus on making sacrifices and being kind to others so they can “put in a straw.” (You can watch a short video with complete directions for the Sacrifice Manger activity–it’s easy, Mom!)

Another great opportunity to bring our focus back to Christ is the Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec 6th. (NOTE: With Advent beginning on Dec 3rd, Dec 6th will come really fast!)

There are all sorts of wonderful traditions surrounding this feast day.

As a child I would leave my shoes outside my bedroom door and in the morning I would find chocolate coins and other treats.

HOWEVER: I have to admit that as a mom this Feast Day has always slipped me by! Every December 6th I see Facebook posts of other families celebrating with treats in their shoes–which reminds me that we didn’t place our shoes out the night before to be filled with treats! I run out to the dollar store that day or the next and grab a few meaningless items and then tell my kids to leave their shoes out before they go to bed. As most of my children are too young to read a calendar (!), they have never known that we have celebrated St. Nicholas’ Feast Day a few days late!!

What I find so inspiring: the kids are happy with just a few things, little things, and the wonder and conversations are so sweet. On this day (whatever day it actually happens!), my children show me that it truly is, “the thought that counts.”

BUT–I will NOT be late this year! This year I am going to be ready, and with more than a trinket that will break the same day my kids get it.

NOTE from Kerri, the Holy Heroes Mom:
These little Holy Water key chains or little flasks make the perfect fun and faith-filled present (and add the book about how to use Holy Water, too!). (And every child will have Holy Water near by to soothe nightmares!). There are also these new cute little saint dolls–oh, there are a bunch of inexpensive-and-very-Catholic shoe & stocking stuffers here.

Back to Jenny…

I am excited for St. Nicholas to give Sacrifice beads (and of course chocolate coins) to my children on December 6th. We will then use these gifts to learn about Christ’s life and Sacrifice as we make our Advent Journey.

Last but not least, we are excited to again make our Jesse Tree! In the past, the task of creating and teaching a Jesse Tree always seemed too daunting to take on. However, after seeing the Holy Heroes Jesse Tree DVD and the simple ornaments that come as a PDF, and after reading customers’ reviews I gave it a go a couple years ago–and I have never looked back! Easy on me, fun for the kids!

This review (below) of the DVD in particular inspired me!

“Last year we began the Jesse Tree tradition in our family. I found readings for each day from assorted books, made my own not-very-good ornaments and tried to get our four kids all excited about the process. Stress! This year, I kept the same ornaments and purchased the Holy Heroes Advent Jesse Tree DVD. Boy, I am SO glad I did! The videos are wonderful! My kids (ages 11, 7, 5 and 3) all love them and look forward to them each night. They’ve added so much to our Jesse Tree AND made my life so much easier (much happier mama = much happier children!). Thank you, thank you!”

In addition to the Jesse tree, my children and I will be participating in the Advent Adventure with the Holy Heroes Adventure Guides. (Sign everyone you know up: it’s free and easy on Mom, because the “Adventure Guides” do it all and email it to you! Just go to!)

I am so excited to really place the focus back on Christ this Thanksgiving & Advent Season. However, with videos the kids can watch on their own for the Jesse Tree, coloring books to teach them about the life of Christ, Advent Adventure and the Advent Adventure Activity Books to get them excited about Christ’s birth, I know we are going to have the best Advent ever, and I hope that your family does, too.

Well, those are my ideas.

In the Love of Christ,
Jenny Ryan


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Jenny Ryan can be found regularly over at  She is the mother of five, holds a Bachelors Degree in Theology, and wrote the Catholic children's book, "Love With All My Might."