Advent can start anywhere from November 27 through December 3 (see When Does Advent Start? for more details), but one popular Advent devotion always begins on November 30, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. On this day, we begin the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, also known as the Christmas Anticipation Prayer or simply the Christmas Novena. While a novena is technically a nine-day prayer (the word comes from the Latin word for nine, novem), the name is sometimes applied to any prayer that we say repeatedly over a series of days.
In this case, Catholics pray the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena prayer 15 times each day from the Feast of Saint Andrew until Christmas. The prayer is addressed to God the Father and asks Him to grant us our request in honor of the birth of His Son on Christmas. It's an excellent prayer to pray with children, because it heightens their anticipation of Christmas, while keeping them focused on the fact that Advent is a time of preparation, and not an extension of the Christmas season.
You can pray the text of the prayer 15 times all at once, or you can spread it out throughout the day. One convenient way to pray it is to recite it five times at each meal, or five times during your morning prayers, five times during your evening prayers, and five times at supper. Be sure, when you begin the novena, to have a particular intention or request in mind, and recall it each time you say the prayer.
(With Christmas music on the radios and decorations in the stores, it's hard to keep our thoughts on preparing for Christmas, rather than celebrating it early. To help make our Advent more fruitful, I'll occasionally put up a post under the title of "Reviving Advent," with a suggestion of an Advent practice or prayer that you and your family can incorporate into your own celebration for years to come.)
(A stained-glass window of Saint Andrew, Apostle, in Saint Peter's Cathedral, Rockford, Illinois. Photo © Scott P. Richert)