**What to Do this Advent**
1. Explore other cultural traditions: Learn how the custom of Christmas stockings evolved from the German tradition of slipping treats into shoes or slippers that kids leave near the chimney in the days leading up to St. Nicholas' Day (December 6). Celebrate the Feast Day of the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on December 12 at the nearest parish with a large Hispanic community. On Christmas Eve, you can serve twelve fish dishes the way the Italians do. Experiment by adding shrimp cocktail or baked clams to the menu. Dilled salmon steaks garnished with lemon always taste great. Sushi platters or bouillabaisse combine many types of fish in one dish. See how many you can add to your Christmas Eve menu!
2. Pray to St. Nicholas every night: Cant' decide between Santa and St. Nick? You don't necessarily have to kick the jolly old guy in the red suit to the curb. Just remember to pray to St. Nicholas every night at bedtime. After all, he's the patron saint of children. Praying for his intercession during Advent is especially appropriate.
3. Make an Advent Wreath and share pictures on CatholicMom: There's an almost unlimited number of ways to make an Advent wreath. With pillar candles on platters, taper candles in candlesticks, or in special Advent candleholders that have places for four candles arranged in a pretty ring. Check out all the different ways to get inspired and then display what you made on the CatholicMom link-up!
4. See the Radio City Christmas Show: In this era of "winter" concerts and "holiday" tree-lightings, Radio City Music Hall and the famous Rockettes stay almost defiantly Christian. The show starts with a "Ho-Ho-Ho, Merry Christmas" from Santa, and ends with a living Nativity scene narrated with quotes straight out of the Bible. If you live too far away from New York City or the show does not fit your budget this year, rent a video of past shows from your local public library. You won't regret it.
**What Not to Do this Advent**
5. Don't display garden gnome plastic Santas on your front lawn: Please, I beg of you, don't display giant, inflatable Santas that resemble scarily cheerful garden gnomes on steroids. They have nothing to do with the incarnation of our Lord and Savior. Somewhere St. Nick is crying. I know I'm crying. Maybe the garden gnomes are even crying.
6. Don't spend more than 20 hours stressing about the upcoming road trip when it will only last 19: Nothing is worse than anticipating a horror and then actually living it. It will only double your pain. So what if you will have to stop every half hour or so to nurse the baby or take the toddler to the bathroom or get something to eat or walk around to prevent bloodclots and varicose veins. Think of it like labor and childbirth -- you can stand anything for 24 hours, right?
7. Don't whine more than your kids about chopping down your own Christmas tree: This is fun, darnit. Moreover, it is very manly (maybe only for your husband, but so be it). Cold toes, cold fingers, and a maddening level of indecision which is resolved only by finally buying the tree least likely to fit in your house will only add to the joy. Think how much you will laugh about this ten years from now. Okay, twenty.
8. Don't fight over the rules for Secret Santa: I so totally do not do this every year. Just ask my relatives. If the suggested price is high enough to give you nosebleeds or low enough to restrict you to a pack of pencils, don't shout or gripe about it. Just say no thanks, maybe next year.
**What You Can Do & I Promise Not to Tell**
9. Listen to Christmas carols: I know it's not liturgically appropriate to listen to Christmas carols during Advent. But unless you hang out at the mall a lot with your kids, you're not going to hear Christmas carols anywhere except home. We've tried to avoid playing or singing Christmas carols during Advent in the past, and the only result is that our kids don't really know that many Christmas carols, which is a rather horrifying cultural gap. So let it ring!
10. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life": The movie presents a completely incorrect theology of angels -- "every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" -- really? But it's such a feel-good movie about how everyone's life, even if it seems insignificant and utterly unimportant, makes a huge difference in the lives of others. So watch it with your kids. And maybe explain real angels to them, too.
11. Go to a solstice party: We just got invited to a solstice party, which I think is kind of cool. The winter solstice is a real astronomical event, not just a pagan invention (it also happens to fall on my birthday). Plus, if you go to a solstice party, then you're not really going to a Christmas party during Advent (which is a little dicey) and you're not attending a "holiday" party, either (and turning a Christmas party into a "holiday" party really annoys a lot of people). So, celebrate the solstice and wish me happy birthday while you're at it.
12. Offer your kids a big Christmas gift as a bribe for good behavior through Advent: My son Miguel has adopted a type of behavior that he calls "iPod behavior." He'll set the table without being asked, say please and thank-you, and generally act like a pleasant human being. Then he will point out that this is the type of behavior I can expect to continue if he gets an iPod Touch for Christmas. Works well for me!
What's your favorite Advent tip? Please tell us in the comments! And if you have other tips, please let us know!