Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.
She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.
I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.
Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.
There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:
We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.
We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.
We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.
I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.
We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.
And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.
There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.