Growing up in a church that didn't make much of Advent, I pretty much assumed that Advent was a fancy word for the Christmas season and sometimes included a fun Advent calendar that helped with the Christmas countdown. It's only been in the past few years that I've come to appreciate Advent for what it really is: the time of expectation and waiting for the birth of Christ. Nothing helps me to honor Christmas more than observing Advent in our home. When I have weekly and daily reminders of the reason behind the shopping and baking and partying, my heart is full and excited for Christmas when it comes. We're still making adjustments from year to year on the way we observe Advent, especially with the addition of 3 kids, but we're slowly finding practices that work for us. If you're not in the habit of celebrating Advent in your home, I'll share some ideas, and you can surf the web looking for more if you don't like mine.
One of the simplest ways to start is to use an Advent wreath. I always throw mine together last minute because I don't prepare before Thanksgiving, and the first Sunday of Advent catches me by surprise. (Not this year though. Writing this post reminded me that we need to pick up candles when we're out today.) In our family we don't particularly care if we we use the traditional color candles. We just make a ring of 4 candles with a white candle in the middle that is reserved for lighting at Christmas breakfast. We put the wreath in the middle of our dinner table. Each Sunday of Advent we do a short reading, pray, and light a new candle after we eat dinner. On subsequent days of the week we relight the candles before we sit down to eat. (We learned the hard way that thin taper candles won't last all the way through Advent if you light them every day, so plan accordingly.) We enjoy watching our Advent wreath and considering the significance of each candle as Christmas nears. Our only complaint is that we've had trouble finding kid-friendly readings and prayers we really like. We still haven't chosen ones to try this year, so I'll have to do some searching over the next few days. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.
We have tried to find daily kid-friendly readings in addition to the weekly candle lighting service. So far we've been disappointed with our choices 2 years in a row, so this year we're going to try a Jesse Tree. We know many people who use a Jesse Tree, and there are a variety of ways to do it. The name comes from Jesus being the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:1-2 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him..."). The daily readings take you all the way back to Genesis and trace the way the entire story of the Bible is really about the coming of Jesus. If you search online, you'll find all kinds of Jesse Tree resources and ideas for making your own Jesse Tree ornaments. Last week I went wild and purchased a widely recommended ebook by Ann Voskamp that includes readings for each day and printable ornaments that I can just laminate. I don't do crafts, so it was money well spent. I've skimmed the readings, and I like them pretty well. We'll see how the kids respond.
Peter and I have also come to appreciate liturgical readings and structured prayers as a powerful way to prepare our own hearts during Advent. I realize that some of you had your share of liturgy in the past and have developed negative associations with it, but neither of us were even exposed to it as kids. If structured readings don't work for you, you could probably find some less "churchy" daily readings that you prefer. For us, we've found that liturgical readings help us to focus on the coming of Christ in deep and powerful ways. This year we'll be using Phyllis Tickle's Advent prayers on a daily basis. Sometimes we read them together at night after the kids are in bed, but that's a matter of personal preference. We've also been blessed last year and this one to be part of a small group that enjoys doing a weekly Advent service that Peter arranges from the Book of Common Prayer. (If you're interested in seeing or using the services, Peter would be happy to send them to you.)
There are countless ways to observe Advent. Finding ones that connect for you or your family may take some experimentation, but the work is well worth it. Bringing focus to the Christmas chaos allows all of us to move from mere celebrating to honoring Christmas in significant ways.
Up next in our series: giving better gifts.
Honoring Christmas: a series
Honoring Christmas: the hard work