Here are five beautiful ways to observe this most peaceful of seasons.
Do you ever get to Christmas morning and wonder where, exactly, the last month went? Too often, the holiday season rushes by with a flurry of activity, and sometimes, the busy pace of life in December means we forget all about Advent. While Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, Advent — the four weeks before Christmas — is a special time in the Church calendar to practice waiting and hoping, to turn our attention toward Christ’s first coming.
Advent is a great season for families to celebrate together. Since kids learn best through hands-on experiences, Advent — with its traditional colors, smells, and pageantry — is a perfect time to engage young ones in learning about their faith. By keeping the focus off Santa and presents during Advent, we can help children (and, who are we kidding — ourselves, too) counter the commercialism and materialism that can tend to trip us up, taking our focus off the real reason for the season.
Here are five creative ways to celebrate Advent with your loved ones this year:
1. Go traditional
For hundreds of years, Christians have celebrated Advent with an evergreen wreath and candles. Traditional wreaths symbolize important aspects of our faith: evergreens remind us of the everlasting life found in Christ, and holly branches represent the crown of thorns that Christ wore at his death. During the first week of Advent, families light one candle, and each week they light another. These candles remind us of the light of Christ coming into the world.
You can find lots of ideas for creative wreaths and candles online. Go traditional with purple and pink candles, or go modern with tea lights in mason jars (you can find plenty of inspiration on Pinterest). Either way, remember to pray with your family and friends as you light the candles together.
2. Get crafty
Advent is a perfect time to help younger children begin to understand the true meaning of Christmas through hands-on activities. The ebook Truth in the Tinsel offers daily Bible readings with accompanying crafts that are easy to make, using things you probably already have around the house. It’s the perfect tool for busy parents of preschoolers.
Many families choose to make a “Jesse tree” during Advent. This tree takes its name from Jesse, the father of King David of the Old Testament, who is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus. The Jesse tree can be a small, traditional Christmas tree, a large evergreen bough, or even a drawing of a tree hung on your wall. On each day of Advent, you add one ornament to the tree that reflects a part of the Christmas story. You can use this resource for scripture for Jesse trees and ornament inspirations, drawing from the stories of different people in Jesus’ genealogy, or Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, which comes with a set of free, printable ornaments.
3. Be generous
In the book Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions (available as a free ebook), Noel Piper writes about the tradition of a “shepherd’s pouch,” in which her family collects money through December to give to a person or organization they have chosen. Whether or not you use an actual pouch, emphasizing a spirit of giving as we celebrate Advent is a valuable way of countering the materialistic spirit that often overtakes our society during this season.
Give a goat or a flock of chicks to a family who can use them for food and to start a small business selling milk or eggs. Send a water filtration system that will help protect a community from preventable diseases. Collect canned goods to donate to your local food bank or clothing to give to a women’s shelter.
4. Go historical
Christmas is not the only day to celebrate! With children, it’s particularly fun to celebrate the feasts of St. Nicholas (December 6) and St. Lucia (December 13). Find craft ideas for both of these celebrations at Catholic Icing.
On December 6, you might read a picture book about the true story behind the man who became known as St. Nick (we like Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend). Or, watch a video like Veggie Tales: Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (available on Netflix Instant). Both tell the story of three poor girls who could not get married because they had no dowry. St. Nicholas came and secretly left purses of gold for them at night. To follow his example, your family can find a way to show generosity to someone in need.
On December 13, you might tell your kids the story of St. Lucia, which was told by monks who brought the gospel to Sweden. According to the monks, Lucia was a young woman who secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome who were forced to hide underground in the catacombs. Lucia, whose name means light, would wear a crown of candles so she could use both of her hands to carry food. During the celebration today, young girls dress up as St. Lucia, wearing crowns of candles, and everyone enjoys traditional Swedish foods such as St. Lucia Buns and glogg (mulled wine).
5. Get creative
When I was a child, I often received chocolate Advent calendars, with one sweet for each day of the season. But why not add a little twist to this familiar idea this year? Do an Advent calendar, but don’t do it in the usual way. Create a paper chain Advent calendar where each link of the chain has a fun winter activity or an act of kindness. Or try a free printable Advent calendar with a Scripture reading or a name of Jesus (like “good shepherd” or “light of the world”) for each day. Or maybe even invest in an Advent calendar Nativity scene that will let your kids add one character or element each day until the baby Jesus arrives.
However you choose to practice Advent this year, let the message of hope bring comfort to your soul in a busy season: Rejoice! God is with us.