I’ve been practicing Advent in some form or another since I was first introduced to the church calendar in college. But it wasn’t until having kids that I really evaluated the traditions we wanted to instill as a family. A friend recently asked how to start practicing Advent so I thought I’d walk you through how our family does it. Each year is a bit different and one of the most important things I’ve learned is to find what works for you.
There are so many resources available and you could make Advent as complex or simple as you want. But the point is to pause and anticipate the birth of Jesus. The whole practice is about slowing down and remembering this huge part of our story. It has become one of my favorite seasons and I love instilling these practices in our girls’ spiritual journey. I hope you find this helpful!
We actually start our Advent season on November 1 with a Thankful Tree. (This has nothing to do with actual Advent but I still count it as preparation.) Since I’m not crafty, I bought a bulletin board tree at a teacher supply store and hang it in our dining room. I also buy premade leaves. If you like crafting, this would be a fairly simple project. Each night, we share one thing we’re thankful for – from family and friends to glow sticks and technology. We write it on a leaf and tape it to our tree trunk. By the end of November, the wall is filled with small and big things we’re thankful for. This month of thankfulness prepares us for our nightly Advent readings. I’ve come to view it as preparation for the preparation of Christmas. I like having a rhythm in place by the time Advent arrives.
Wreath & Candles
If you do nothing else, an Advent wreath and 4 candles would be significant enough. Each candle represents part of the journey toward Bethlehem, though depending on the tradition, they mean different things. The first candle is Prophecy or Hope, the second is Bethlehem or Preparation, the third is Shepherd or Joy, and the fourth is Angel or Love. In the middle is a Christ Candle. Each night we light a candle and read a devotion together. As the month progresses, our table gets brighter and brighter. We keep the Christ candle lit all day for Christmas and then I save it to use during Epiphany.
Here are some resources for the meanings behind the candles:
United Methodist Church
I know some people make wreaths out of greenery. One year, I used a tin and short candles since Bea liked to grab things off the table. Last year, I found a gold wreath at Target that worked well for a reusable wreath. I know Amazon has some decorative ones, too. Again, find what works for you.
I suppose you could simply light a candle and read a Bible verse to guide you through Advent. I like using a short devotional and there are plenty out there. Search for Advent books by your favorite authors for a start. Here are a few I’ve used:
In Joyful Hope: Meditations for Advent by Henri Nouwen
My parents sent this to me in college and I’ve read it every year and still haven’t tired of it. I love Nouwen’s gracious and simple way of sharing big ideas.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
Even though Ann Voskamp can be a bit wordy for my girls, her daily reflections are easy to compress for shorter attention spans. I also love all the resources that go along with this book. Sometimes I’ll print a full page coloring sheet for Bea to use while I read the story. Last year, we created our own little Jesse tree in the playroom with printed ornaments. It’s a good guide for families with younger kids.
The Beautiful Word for Christmas by Mary DeMuth
I read this book for review last month so haven’t yet used it during Advent, but am looking forward to incorporating it into my personal readings this year. (You can read my review here.)
Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro
I haven’t read this but Enuma Okoro is a favorite author and it is on my radar for when I need a refresh in my readings.
Praying in Anticipation
A few years ago, I hosted a series here on the blog for Advent. Each day featured a prayer or meditation from a different guest.
Celebrating the Feasts
I love celebrating the Feast Days of December. On December 6 Bea and Elle pick their favorite dinner and we put boots by the fireplace and read a book about St. Nicholas. In the morning, chocolate coins and Christmas pajamas are waiting. We make lentil and sausage soup on New Year’s Eve and buy a Galette des Rois on January 6 to celebrate the Magi. In each case, we read stories and talk about the significance of the food. This is something I’d like to research more and incorporate more intentionally into the month, but for now, we’ve picked a few that work for us.
For the 12 days after Christmas, we use lights to remember the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem. Even after we take down our decorations on New Year’s, we leave the lights on the tree and outside the house. We also continue to light the Christ Candle from our Advent wreath. On January 6, we buy a Galette des Rois and eat food “from the east.” (We use this loosely – anything east of Colorado counts.)
I’m no expert in Advent or the Church Calendar, but I have found great significance in incorporating these practices as a family. I love that we are intentionally anticipating Christmas and that the girls will know more about the holiday than Santa Claus and presents under the tree. Those are still part of what we do, but my hope is they remember much more. I’ve also left out a lot of the details, partly because it would make this too long and partly because this isn’t a how-to. It’s a starting point. Try a couple things and add to them as you feel works. There is no right or wrong way to anticipate the birth of Jesus.
Do you practice Advent? What are some of your favorite resources? How did you get started on this journey?