Well today is the first day of advent.
Maybe it is a renewed interest in the liturgical calendar or a search for some deeper meaning in Christmas beyond Black Friday and the shopping mania, whatever it is celebrating advent has gained some momentum in recent years.
Now I know that the last thing any of us want is another set of obligations (as if the holiday season didn’t seem busy enough already). Advent can feel even more overwhelming since many of us are new to these traditions and aren’t even sure where to begin with the celebration. I’m a total novice here myself but I have smart friends who are great resources. I hope some of these links and ideas will help you to use this season as a time to gather your family near to Christ in anticipation of His birth and not overburden you with yet another list of things to do.
I thought I’d approach this old school, I started all my papers in junior high with a definition.
the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.“the advent of television”2. the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.noun: Advent3. Christian Theologythe coming or second coming of Christ.noun: Advent
So advent is a season, in which we celebrate a notable person, that person is Christ.
The mood of advent is anticipation.
The colors are deep purples and blues. It is a quiet time. A time to reflect on our longing for Christ to come into the world. (Christmas then, the 12 days after advent is the time to celebrate that indeed He did come.)
Historically advent has been on the sober side, and even included some fasting, it was seen as a time of preparation, a time to remember how much the world needs a savior.
It is a challenge for us with the whirlwind of the American Christmas season to know how to celebrate this time well. Historically the church tried to engage with the world around it and bring Christ into existing traditions in a way that made sense.
This has been the approach in our family. We try to celebrate the parts of American Christmas culture that can help point us to Christ and incorporate a handful of historic traditions that fit into our place and time. We don’t want to be total weirdos but we do want to celebrate this time in a special way.
So we will still let our daughter have her picture taken with Santa but at home we talk more about the real person of St. Nicholas and the ways that he loved Christ and served the poor.
We will enjoy all of the Christmas music but at home will play more O Come O come Emmanuel rather than Walking in a Winter Wonderland (which actually works well for us since it is still 80 degrees).
We get out or Christmas decorations once advent begins but we will save a few special things to bring out during certain times during advent. Most importantly our baby Jesus will stay hidden away until Christmas eve. For our family the highlight of the season is placing baby Jesus down into the nativity between Mary and Joseph. It is a reminder of why we celebrate, that our God came to us as a tiny baby.
We will totally give gifts at Christmas but we won’t do a lot of shopping. Instead we spend the season in preparation, making soap and granola (I know such a hippie right?) and other treats to send to our family and friends (don’t worry our daughter has plenty of grandparents and aunts and uncles she gets more than her share in store bought gifts too).
A few other traditions you may want to try:
- An advent wreath: Usually made up of some evergreen (symbolizing everlasting life) and four candles (hope, joy, peace and love, with a fifth in the center called the Christ candle which is lit on Christmas eve. This year we bought this kit (on the recommendation of my friend Shannon, check out her advent post here) to roll our own beeswax candles. We will light one new candle every week when we do our evening prayer.
Our wreath is one of those grapevine wreathes from the craft store. I picked up some pine scraps out of the Home Depot Christmas tree scraps and wove them in. I realized I didn’t have a candle holder so I made this little disc out of salt dough.
- An advent calendar: You can pick up one of these on basically every corner these days or you can make your own (seriously the number of adorable advent calendars on pinterest is totally overwhelming). The whole point of the calendar is mark the days, to add to that feeling of anticipation as we await Jesus’ birth.
We have a store bought one. But I thought this was cute for something simple, you just put a marble or stone in one of the holes each day (this is also made of salt dough).
- Feast days. There are a couple extra special days during advent. One is St. Nicholas day which is December 6th. Growing up this was the day that our church would do a service project and gather gifts for kids in need. St. Lucia Day is December 13th which is popular in Scandinavia. Traditionally the oldest girl wakes up early and feeds the family breakfast (sounds good to me right?) as a way to focus on service.
- Jesse Tree. This can be a smaller Christmas tree, or just a stick where you can hang ornaments, one for each day of advent that each represent different parts of the Christmas story. I just found this link that has versus for each day which tell the story from the beginning of creation to the birth of Christ. I think we will just read the versus this year, maybe next year we will make some ornaments to go with them.
- Nativity. We have this one, it is indestructible.
We also have this one. Which you can buy here.
Some other great resources:
Let Us Keep the Feast: Advent and Christmas. I love this book and learned most of what I know from it. We may be reading through this together next year with the Liturgy of Life reading group.
Some great music:
Hope you enjoy this season and the Christmas season to come. Looking forward to hearing about how you are celebrating it.
Thanks for reading friends,
To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.