Advent is such an incredibly busy time for so many of us. If you are looking for small ways to increase your prayers and your piety during this holy time of preparation, consider spending just a little bit of time with the saints of Advent and Christmas. You can find a brief story of the life of each saint on the Abba Moses website. Read the story when it’s time for prayers, or at any other time convenient for the day. Get your kids involved with simple activities or snacks that tie in to the saint’s story.
Saints of Advent
- November 16: St. Matthew.
- November 19: St. Philaret of Moscow.
- November 23: St. Columban.
- November 25: St. Catherine.
- November 30: St. Andrew the First Called.
- December 1: St. Philaret the Merciful of Constantinople.
- December 4: St. Barbara.
- December 6: St. Nicholas.
- December 7: St. Ambrose.
- December 13: St. Herman of Alaska and St. Lucy.
Before he was the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, St. Matthew was a Jewish man who collected taxes on behalf of the Romans. In art, he is often depicted as a man holding a box or bag of money. Foil wrapped chocolate coins would make a sweet treat for children on St. Matthew’s day. Or you could make “silver dollar pancakes” (small pancakes the size of silver dollars) for breakfast!
St. Philaret was devoted to almsgiving, and to translating the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers. His morning prayer, which begins, “O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace,” became the morning prayer of the Optina elders. Add his prayer to your morning prayers today, or for the rest of Advent if you can.
St. Columban was an Irish monk who became a missionary to Gaul (which we know as France). He loved animals, squirrels and birds would play with him, and wolves came to him and served him. Today, spend some time watching birds and other small animals.
Celebrate St. Catherine’s Day with a sweet vegan cake, like this vegan chocolate cake that Catherine’s godmother makes for her every year.
Because St. Andrew was a fisherman, have goldfish crackers for a snack.
St. Philaret was at times wealthy and at other times poor. At all times, no matter how much or how little he had, he gave freely to anyone who asked of him. Take a basket of pantry staples to your local food bank today in honor of St. Philaret.
There’s an old story that St. Barbara, locked in her tower, found a dried up cherry branch. She watered it each day with a bit of her drinking water, and shortly before her execution, it bloomed. From this, there grew up a custom of cutting cherry branches on St. Barbara’s Day, and bringing them in to get them to bloom in time for Christmas. You can celebrate the day with flowers from the floral department at your grocery store, or maybe with cherry pie.
St. Nicholas is the best known of all of the saints of Advent, and there are so many ways to celebrate his day! You can have your children set out their shoes for St. Nicholas on St. Nicholas Eve, and fill them with chocolate coins, small oranges, and other treats while they’re asleep. Or read The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, and try some of these book activities. Read stories from his life, starting with The Unwilling Bishop of Myra. Make cookies. Eat oranges. Find lots more activities at The St. Nicholas Center.
St. Ambrose is the patron saint of candlemakers, so celebrate with candles! Have candles on the table for your meals. And candles anywhere else you can!
You may already be familiar with the Swedish custom of having a little girl wear a crown of candles and carry a plate of saffron rolls to her family on the morning of St. Lucy’s Day. If that sounds like too much for you, check out this St. Lucy resource page. Since St. Lucy’s name means “light,” it might be the perfect day for your family to drive around after dark looking at Christmas lights. For St. Herman, since he lived on Spruce Island, make Christmas-tree-shaped cookies. If you have a cookie press, use the Christmas tree and this recipe for vegan spritz cookies.
Saints of Christimas
- December 27: St. Stephen.
- December 31: Melania the Younger.
- January 1: St. Basil.
In the West, St. Stephen is honored on December 26. In the Orthodox Church, the 25th is the Synaxis of the Theotokos, and we honor St. Stephen on December 27. For St. Stephen’s Day, you can feed the birds or ride a carousel or sing about Good King Wenceslas. St. Wenceslas, of course, is not one of the saints of Advent and Christmas, but many of us remember him this time of year.
St. Melania was incredibly rich, so rich she struggled to give away all her wealth. Chocolate coins would be a fun treat for her feast day.
Technically, December 31 is the leavetaking of Christmas, so technically, St. Basil isn’t one of the saints of Advent and Christmas. But I don’t do technicalities during the holidays. I keep Christmas until the Eve of Theophany. And, of course, on St. Basil’s Day, you want to make St. Basil’s bread. If you can’t get mahleb, use cardamom. If you can’t get gum mastic, use vanilla.
Sweet Song: A story of St. Romanos the Melodist: This lovely picture book by Jane G. Meyer tells the story of St. Romanos the Melodist and the Christmas hymn, “Today the virgin gives birth.”
Getting kids to write thank-you notes: Getting kids to write thank you notes doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here’s how you can make it easy, even fun.
St. Nicholas, pirates, and Thursday prayers: We honor St. Nicholas, not just on his feast days, but every Thursday, as part of our weekly cycle of prayers. It all started when a poet was on a ship that was captured by pirates.
Buy the Book: The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
Shoes or stockings? Horse or sleigh? Does St. Nicholas visit on December 6 or on Christmas Eve? Will a little girl’s prayer be answered? When Elizabeth has to stay at Catherine’s house, she’s worried about her grandmother, and worried that St. Nicholas won’t find her. The grownups, though, are worried about snow.