So what is the season of Advent all about?
Last week we shared about the Church Year, and how celebrating it with your family can be a meaningful way to keep your hearts focused on what is truly important in life. The Church Year begins on December 1st with the start of Advent.
Advent is a season of waiting. In the same way Israel awaited the coming of the Messiah, we as Christians await the second coming of the Messiah. This season reminds us that we are waiting, and when Christmas comes, we are reminded that someday the fulfillment we wait for will come to pass, just as it did one night in Bethlehem long ago.
Here are some ideas to choose from to help you slow down in this busy season and enjoy preparing for Christmas! There’s a lot here, and maybe picking just one or two of these is the best option for you this year, or maybe this is your year to try them all. Either way, we hope these suggestions are helpful to you and your family!
Advent Wreath and Devotional
An Advent wreath contains four candles, one for each week of Advent, which stand for hope, peace, joy and love, and a fifth candle, called the Christ Candle, which is lighted on Christmas. The first week of Advent, starting on Sunday, one candle is lighted, the second week two, and so on until the final week of Advent when all four candles are lit. During the season of Advent, we keep this wreath on our dining table, and each night after dinner the kids get to take turns lighting a candle before we read a devotional together. After reading an Advent devotional as a family, we sing a Christmas carol and then a different child gets to blow out the candles. This is a great tangible way to mark the time until Christmas, and to give kids hands-on involvement in family devotions.
A couple of our favorite Advent devotionals:
For adults: God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45)
For kids: Counting to Christmas: Family Advent Devotions and Calendar by Gail E. Pawlitz
The most traditional form of Advent Calendar is a little scene or house with doors to open every day of December until Christmas. There is usually a little piece of chocolate inside of each door. These are (not surprisingly!) quite popular at our house, but there are two other calendars that have proven to be really meaningful ways to celebrate.
1) Wrap 25 Christmas picture books up in wrapping paper and have the kids take turns opening one each day until Christmas. Read the book together that day, and then revisit favorites as time allows as the days go on.
2) An “Advent Activities” calendar, which is a series of 25 paper pockets with an activity inside to be completed each day in December. Some ideas for activities this calendar could include:
Making Christmas cards
Going to a living nativity
Piling in the car to look at Christmas lights together
Listening to or attending Handel’s Messiah
Acting out the Christmas story
Christmas caroling in your neighborhood or at a retirement center
Serving at a soup kitchen
Putting together a puzzle of the nativity scene as a family
Having a family movie night with a favorite Christmas movie
Nativity sets can be used as more than just decorations, and are a favorite part of Advent around our house. We have a toy nativity set that only comes this time of year, and the kids love to play with the shepherds, animals, wise men, and especially baby Jesus.
With our decorative nativity set, we play a hide and seek game. Baby Jesus is hidden as far away from the nativity set as possible. As the kids find baby Jesus, the figure is hidden again a bit closer every few days, until we finally place baby Jesus in the manger after the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve, to be found on Christmas morning!
You could also have the other figures in your nativity set “travel” through the house and gradually arrive at the site of the manger throughout the month of December.
Serve as a Family
Some of the ideas mentioned in the Christmas activities section would fit here as well, such as caroling at a retirement center or serving at a soup kitchen. Another ideas is to adopt a family in need and take them a meal and/or gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and pray for them before you leave. Taking time out of our already busy holiday season can be hard, but this could be a great way to show the love of Christ in a sacrificial way.
Attend Advent Services
If you are here in San Antonio, we would love to have you join us for weekly Advent services on Sunday evenings! We will have a simple dinner of soup and bread available at 5pm, and begin a short service at 5:30 including Christmas carols, a brief devotional and some interactive components for kiddos as well. After the service each week we will have different activities including making fresh evergreen Christmas wreaths, a cookie exchange, and more. More information on our Advent services can be found here or on our Facebook Events page.
In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the season, Advent services are a good way to quiet our hearts and experience the beauty of what God has done and the anticipation of what God will do.
Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this post, which will have a few more ideas, a big list of book recommendations for young and old, some recipes, and an Advent Spotify playlist!