Advent begins this week for Christians around the world, but do you really know what Advent is?
Advent is the season of waiting for Christmas.
It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and it ends of Christmas Eve. It is a time of happiness, celebration, and hopeful anticipation of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We all look forward to the excitement of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Most of us give presents to our kids, friends, and family, and that night and morning are so very special.
The month of waiting leading up to that?
It’s hard. Nobody likes to wait. I hate waiting. My kids hate waiting. Waiting stinks.
Celebrating Advent as its own holiday, a special event all its own, makes the waiting for Christmas come a little easier. The days pass more quickly.
And, best of all, we talk about Jesus all month long, so when the excited whirlwind of Santa and his elves blows through, I don’t worry about new toys and old legends. My kids know the Reason for the Season.
If you’ve spent a month looking forward to and celebrating His birth, He is in the back of your mind, even as you rip the paper of the brand new amazing whizbanger you’ve been dying to have all year long.
So, enough talking about why you should be celebrating Advent. Here’s how we do it at my house:
- We use an Advent wreath every night at dinner. It’s a simple circle of candles – three purple and one pink, with a large white candle in the center – and we light the candles in a certain order as the month goes by. On Christmas Eve, we light all four of the colored candles as well as the white candle (representing Jesus). My mom always said you’re supposed to let the white candle burn all night long, but I’m too paranoid of fire to do that.
- We make a Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree is my very favorite Advent tradition. Essentially, it’s a tree and you put a new ornament on each day. The tree can be a tabletop tree (what we use), a large tree, a poster of a tree, or a tree cut out of construction paper. The ornaments begin with God creating the world on the first day, Adam and Eve on the second, the fall on the third, and they continue through Noah, Isaac, Abraham, Joseph, King David, Esther, and many others. By the end, you have traced most of the major figures in the lineage of Jesus as it is described in the New Testament. It’s a wonderful trip through the Old Testament, through stories familiar and unfamiliar. This will be our fifth year using the Jesse Tree. FaithGateway is currently offering a Jesse Tree Advent free printable based on illustrations and readings from The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I created a printable Jesse Tree devotional three years ago that we still use. It includes 28 days (that’s the longest Advent can be), and each day includes a passage from the Bible, a story, a song about the main character, and a prayer. It’s appropriate for preschoolers up through big kids. It’s free to download from the link above.
- We create a daily craft from Truth in the Tinsel. This little ebook is full of meaningful craft projects, one per day during Advent. Rather than duplicating the Jesse Tree, it is a children’s study of the Christmas story, beginning when the angel told Mary she would have a child and ending with the birth of Jesus. It’s really great. Printable color pages are also available if you need a quicker than a craft option.
- We have a commercial Advent Calendar. It’s a bear in a Christmas tree that you put ornaments on to count down the days.
- We color Advent pictures. We’ve used the same two coloring pages since my daughter, Grace, was three, and they never get old. It’s almost like color by number except that you color one part each day until Christmas.
- This year, I made a little cardboard Advent box with 25 spaces. I’m going to put a treat (like a Hershey Kiss or something small) in each one and let them retrieve their treat each night after dinner. It’s not about Jesus, but it makes the waiting a little more fun.
- Read a special Advent book every night. Reading to your kids (especially at bedtime) is such a special habit to start with, but reading a book specifically about Jesus brings the whole Advent thing full circle. Some families gift wrap 25 books at the beginning of the month, but we aren’t that planned. I let the kids pick the book that they want to read. Among our favorites are Itsy Bitsy Christmas, The Story of Christmas, The Pine Tree Parable (my personal favorite!), and Gigi’s Perfect Christmas Gift. There are a plethora of Jesus-based Christmas books out there if you look hard enough.
To be honest, we don’t always get to every one of these things every day. A family dinner with the Advent wreath and Jesse tree are our first priority. Sometimes, we have to do several coloring sections at a time or we miss a day of reading. The key to observing Advent isn’t doing every possible activity every day.
The key to observing Advent is celebrating the coming birth of Jesus, celebrating a God that has so much love for us that He sent His Son as a humble human baby, born in a stable.
If you make it fun and interesting and you make it about Jesus, you can’t go wrong.
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What is Advent to your family? How do you celebrate Advent at your house? Leave your comments below. We’d love to hear your ideas!