When many folks hear the word Advent, their mind goes straight to this masterpiece:
Whenever I had one of these, I would remember to open the cardboard doors for the first three days, forget about the thing, and then find it two days after Christmas and make myself ill by overeating substandard chocolate products.
Or, if you’ve been trolling around on Pinterest lately, perhaps your mind now immediately goes to something more along these lines (crafty cute overload):
I’m not sure when or how it happened, but Advent somehow got hijacked and watered down in many homes into the form of a Christmas countdown with goodies inside to open each day. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good old Advent calendar (I’ve got a really cute one myself, because I’m successful like that), but there’s so much more to Advent than tucking a teensy toy or piece of candy into a little pocket or bag or stocking or little wooden door or entire wine bottle.
A Beginner’s Guide To Observing Advent
Last year was my first time celebrating traditional Advent. Before then, I didn’t even know there was such a thing, and I’m one of those long-term Jesus people so that’s really saying something. Perhaps when it was discussed in church when I was a young lady, I was thinking about the cute guy sitting a few seats down? Perhaps it wasn’t mentioned or emphasized? Either is possible.
I think many evangelical Christian churches have removed this type of liturgical or traditional exercise from their culture, and that is the most likely reason why so many of us who are strong in our faith are relatively unaware of this meaningful way to infuse our Christmas season with rich significance.
I learned about Advent when I attended a course on the topic led by a woman at my old church. She shared its meaning and talked about some of her family traditions for this special season leading up to Christmas. I loved all of it, and I could not wait to start similar rituals with my own family.
I want to share with you my CliffsNotes summary on how to celebrate Advent.
Celebrate Advent in the Four Weeks Leading Up To Christmas
It begins the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas day. Advent is defined as: “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.” I’ll give you a gold star if you can guess what this extremely important thing or person that is we celebrate during Advent . . .
Kudos and gold stars for everyone. “Jesus!” is correct! You are all geniuses!
The beauty of celebrating the coming of Christmas in the weeks preceding it rather than just celebrating Christmas itself from Thanksgiving onward is that it creates this sense of anticipation and wonder regarding Christ’s birth. Your daily Advent activities emphasize that something amazing is about to happen. It’s a time for patience. It’s a time for waiting. It sets you up to appreciate the meaning of Christmas on a deeper level.
You become a part of the story as you add to your nativity set day by day, rather than setting it all out at once.
You don’t light all the candles the first week—you must wait. Tell your kids: “It’s not time yet, but it will be soon.” There’s something so simple and lovely about that.
Some people take their celebration of Advent and creating a sense of anticipation to another level and even wait to listen to Christmas music, decorate their house, or put up their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. This would be impossible for me . . . I might have already listened to some classic Rat Pack Christmas tunes just yesterday. Shout out to these true Advent traditionalists!
As with anything, you can make honoring Advent complicated or expensive. You could plan a daily craft, start a Jesse tree, bake a cake with the day’s verse written on top in icing, or bedazzle your own custom Advent wreath. I did nothing of the sort last year. I did have to procure a few items but kept our ritual pretty simple. I think this is why we actually followed through with it and enjoyed it so much! If this will be your first time celebrating Advent, I suggest you don’t overcomplicate it. As the years go by, you can always make your tradition more involved (i.e. I would like to do a Jesse tree this year if I can get myself organized; I think putting ornaments in the pockets of our Advent calendar sounds much more Advent-appropriate than giving our kids 25 days of candy or gifts).
Observing Advent: What You Need, What You Do
- An Advent wreath – Last year I purchased an Advent ring like this at a local Christian book store, then put fresh greenery around it and used a free-standing white pillar candle in the middle. If you don’t feel like buying a wreath or aren’t into the aesthetic of this sort of thing, you could just set up five pretty candle holders and I think you’d be OK! Here’s the lowdown on the Advent wreath.
- Advent candles – 3 purple, 1 pink, 1 white. OK, I know these colors don’t match your Christmas decorations. Advent dares to be different. (Oh and there is meaning behind the colors.)
- An Advent devotional – Find one that is fitting for your family situation. There are oodles out there in book form and online versions. The one I bought was used and cost $4. I found this free printable one online that looks really promising for families. Last year, I used this book to lead our devotionals and we really enjoyed it. My favorite part about this book was that it involved setting up a nativity scene as a part of the devotions. Sadly, I think it’s out of print but it would be worth picking up a used copy! Take 15 minutes and browse. I think you’ll find one that tickles your fancy.
- A Nativity scene – One of my favorite things last year was setting out the stable and animals alone, then slowly moving all the main characters closer and closer to the scene. This means we didn’t get to see Baby Jesus until Christmas Day, which emphasizes the wonder and anticipation. This is a great set toddlers can play with and move characters without worry over anything breaking. You definitely don’t have to do anything fancy; you could just go to Hobby Lobby and find a little wooden cheapo Nativity scene and it’d work just fine.
What to do:
- Set aside 10 minutes every night with your family. Light one candle the first week, two candles the second, and so on; a devotional will guide you through the process. Each evening, light the right candles, read the devotion, read the scripture, and pray. Our book also included a little hymn each day which my husband and I would attempt to sing; I’ve also heard a lot of people just sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” each night after their devotional, which I think is a fantastic idea. If it is fitting of the scripture you’ve read, use the nativity figures to illustrate the lesson (the angel has a message for Mary? Bust out your angel and your Mary and have them hang out together somewhere in the room until the next lesson).
The Key To Celebrating Advent: Do it Every Day, No Excuses
Commit from December 1 through December 25 to do your Advent devotional every night. It was hard to find the time some days, but it was always worth it. I recall keeping my daughter up past her bedtime on more than one occasion to make it happen . . . and she survived it. Not only that, but she thrived.
As most of you are well aware, kids love activities that are consistent. My daughter loved helping hold the candle and moving the pieces of the nativity set. There was also value in her learning to sit still and be quiet as we read the daily verse. It is always a good lesson to discover that there are times to be respectful and quiet. She was only two-and-a-half, but she looked forward to it every day. It will be such a joy to see how the tradition gets more and more meaningful to my kids as the years pass and they grow older. I hope that they will remember their parents chose to put time with God, scripture, and time with them as a priority.
Focus On the Reason For the Season
I loved seeing my daughter get excited about our Advent rituals last year, but it was also a time of great joy for me personally. The days leading up to Christmas are often fast-paced and you can’t help but find yourself getting caught up in a long list of things to buy, events to attend, and food to cook. It’s all great fun and I enjoy it immensely, but there have been years where it wasn’t until I was actually sitting down at the Christmas Eve church service that I truly contemplated the significance and life-changing implications of Christ’s birth. Even though I had been listening to Christmas music and eating Christmas cookies for weeks, I hadn’t slowed down and meditated upon how grateful I am for the amazing gift of Jesus Christ. That’s just a shame.
Last year, celebrating Advent was the total opposite. It was such a rich time. Time to sit still with those you love the most and talk about what matters most . . . time to look at a candle shine and be in wonder that we are a part of a love story between God and man. Implementing a daily ritual was powerful and life-changing. My husband embraced the tradition wholeheartedly as well and led most of the lessons. It was such a joy to see how quickly he saw the value in it and made it a priority.
I hope you will consider making Advent a part of your Christmas tradition this year. You will not regret it! In far less time than it would take to wait in line for one Black Friday sale, you could acquire all you need to make it happen.
Have a blessed Advent!
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