Family keeps Advent focus on Christ
Eleven-year-old Zac Kraft used an orange-colored pencil to shade in the hair in a picture of St. Barbara, paying attention to staying inside the lines. Sitting at the family’s dining room table, he joined his six siblings in creating saint ornaments to prepare for Christmas.
Making paper ornaments of saints whose feast days are celebrated during Advent is one of many ways Rachel and Evan Kraft and their children celebrate the season of Advent in their Omaha home. The couple said it’s important they teach their children that although Christmas decorations, presents and Santa are fun ways to mark the holiday, there is beauty in the days leading up to the birth of Christ.
"Evan and I want to teach our children that our time here, our Advent time, is not about how much we can buy, or the latest techno gadgets, but about turning our hearts toward Christ," Rachel said. "He is the foundation of our family, and the light of the world, and we do all we can to bring that message to light by connecting the temporal with the spiritual."
To help their children – ages 2 to 16 and schooled at home – make that connection, Rachel and Evan plan a variety of family activities during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Like many families, they light the candles of the Advent wreath every evening. Evan is the prayer leader and the children light the candles, which represent hope, faith, joy and peace.
It’s a tradition the Krafts, members of Our Lady of Lourdes-St. Adalbert Parish in Omaha, brought from Rachel’s childhood. They also read Advent adventure books that include prayers and discussion questions at the end of each night’s story.
Celebrating the various saints’ feast days in Advent is another way to make the season come alive, Rachel said. They go to Mass, read about the saints, invoke them in prayer, watch movies about them, and do a craft, such as making the saint ornaments.
To mark the Dec. 12 feast of St. Juan Diego/Our Lady of Guadalupe last year, the family had a celebration with a big homemade Mexican meal, and their table was lit with a Juan Diego prayer candle and adorned with the homemade saint ornaments.
"The saints are our friends and very much alive in Christ, and as part of our faith, we keep them close, thank God for them, and call on their intercession when needed," Rachel said.
The Kraft children – Lillian, 16, Ruby, 15, Jude, 13, Zac, 11, Chase, 8, Martha, 4, and Frances, 2 – said they look forward to the feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6 by setting their shoes out the night before and finding them filled with candy and coins the next morning.
"I love St. Nicholas Day because we get to watch his movie and we get candy in our shoes," Chase said. "And I like that he’s a good guy."
Other Advent traditions in the Kraft home include displaying various Nativity sets, participating in their parish’s Jesse Tree program and the Catholic Voice’s Colors of Christmas art contest, secretly doing acts of love throughout the season for a sibling, and baking traditional Czech Christmas cookies.
Each Advent, Rachel and her sister, Melissa Clement of Omaha, and their families get together to make Prazny cookies, molded butter cookies made with Brazil nuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar. It’s a tradition that has been passed down from Rachel and Melissa’s maternal ancestors in Czechoslovakia.
Preparation requires many hands and is time consuming, the sisters said. One batch makes more than 100 cookies, and they try to make at least four batches a year. The cookies are brought out for Christmas, or given as gifts to friends, they said.
Making Prazny cookies is fun, it helps family members stay connected, and it helps them remember family members who are no longer alive, said Melissa, who with her husband, Dave, have 11 children. They also are members of Our Lady of Lourdes-St. Adalbert Parish.
"When my mother and grandmother were alive, they would relay stories of my great-grandfather, and how it was always his job to flip the hot tins over when they came out of the oven because his hands were so calloused, or how he would eat the ones that were too dark or broken," she said.
Two of the Clements’ sons attend and live at Mount Michael Benedictine High School near Elkhorn, and often bring home fellow boarders for Thanksgiving break. That’s when the families typically gather to make the first batch of cookies, so many of their guests help as well, Melissa said.
"Last year we had three of the international boys here when we made our first batch. When they saw what we were doing, they all sat down to help, laugh and chat," she said.
Although Advent celebrations may change through the years, Rachel said what’s most important is that prayers and family time together increase. That’s her favorite part of Advent, being together and sharing more, she said.
"I talked about a lot of Advent traditions, but if I said ‘OK, family, we have to do all this stuff in this amount of time,’ essentially making us slaves to the tasks, it would defeat the purpose of Advent, which is making room for Jesus, who is love," Rachel said. "That’s the message I hope the children take from it all."