The Season of Advent
Advent is the first season of the Church year and it helps us begin with the end in mind: to live always ready for Christ's second coming. Its purpose is to train us to live awake and ready. Advent lasts for four weeks leading up to Christmas Day on December 25. “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming or arrival.”
For us as the people of God, the season points us first to the “arrival” of God in Jesus Christ when he was born on the original Christmas Day. Secondly, it points us to the upcoming “arrival” of Jesus Christ, when he will return to fully establish his Kingdom and to judge the living and the dead.
So, the season of Advent is a season of preparation and waiting. We celebrate Christ’s first arrival as a humble servant-king and we are joyfully expectant and long for Christ’s second coming to make all things right.
What's the difference between Advent and Christmas?
Cooperation with the Church Year helps us better understand and experience God and His ways. Advent and Christmas are often confused because many people begin celebrating Christmas before it arrives. Just like the season of Easter is prefixed with a season of preparation (Lent), so too Advent is the season of preparation for the season of Christmas.
To celebrate Advent as a time of preparation and waiting, however, we must refocus from the cultural confusion of the season, spending our time until Christmas in sober reflection and hopeful longing. In Advent, we delve into whole scope of History, from creation and the prophets to Revelation. We remember again what God is doing with His world, what is to come, and how we can re-align our lives with His story and His Kingdom, helping us learn afresh to live ready and awake.
AFTER this season of preparation, we joyfully celebrate Christmas, and enter Christmastide, which is a 12 day feast and celebration until Epiphany (January 6.)
when & how is advent celebrated?
Advent is a four week season, beginning four Sundays before Christmas Day.
It is a season of fasting and waiting, not only in preperation to celebrate Christmas, but also in longing for Christ to make himself known among us now and in His second coming.
Questions to Ponder during advent:
What do you hope for?
What do you long for Christ to heal and fix?
Why is the Incarnation (God becoming human) so important to us?
What might God want to teach us in this season of waiting?
Creative & Contemplative Engagements
first things first
Schedules and spending can get carried away this time of year – make sure your values are reflected in your calendar and checkbook. Explore one of these thought-provoking resources, then talk about what it inspired in you with a close friend who can help you put it into action.
Some suggestions to prayerfully evaluate your holiday priorities:
- Read Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean C Staeheli
- Read Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas
- Explore adventconspiracy.org
Celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6
St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop of Myra (now modern Turkey) and the patron saint of children. Born to devout Christian parents in the Asia Minor, Nicholas was known for giving to the poor and served as the inspiration for the figure of Santa Claus in the USA.
Try one of these!
- Instead of receiving gifts on this day, collaborate as a family to drop off a bag of goodies or presents at the doorstep of a family in need. Gift certificates or cash gifts in their mailbox with a note may be another way to bless your community.
- To remember the generosity of St. Nicholas, hopeful children can put out empty shoes on the eve (Dec 5th) of St. Nicholas Day. Parents place gold chocolate coins, fruit, gifts or other candies in their shoes for children to discover in the morning.
- Plan a special dinner (candlelight, perhaps), decorate with red and white (the bishop’s colors), and retell the story of this saint.
- Consider exchanging gifts that evening in order to take the emphasis off gifts on Christmas Day.
- Here is a PDF with history and more ideas for kids, including a reader's theater interactive play.
- Here is a link with a bunch of picture books, resources and more ideas.
Do you like to write, draw, paint, make music or dance?
Over the course of the Advent season, however often you wish (weekly? daily? just one time?) choose a word that encompasses Advent:
and write a poem, make a piece of artwork, choreograph a movement or write a music score to go along with the word. If you feel courageous, share your work with your small group or a friend.
Decorate your home
With a Creche (Manger Scene)
The Bridge on 8th Street in downtown Holland has some beautiful choices. Set up your creche together then with your child(ren) act out the story with the figures.
Expand on the theme:
- Follow the Blessing for the Creche Liturgy.
- Pull out cardboard, fabric and a glue gun to build on the set – incorporate the road on which Mary & Joseph traveled, the homes where they were turned away, a hillside for the shepherds and other parts of the narrative.
- Start with an empty manger in the creche. Every time someone does an act of kindness in your home, someone can place a piece of straw in the waiting manger. Our faithfulness now prepares the way for Christ to come, like preparing a soft bed for the Christ child.
- Set up a manger scene (animals, human figures, etc.) gradually as advent progresses, but place the magi far from the creche. They move closer each day until arriving at the manger scene on the Feast of Epiphany (Jan 6). This movement serves as a reminder that even those who begin the journey far off are welcomed to the Christ Child.
Hang origami stars up from the ceiling for epiphany or on the tree for each day of Advent. Use colorful magazine pages to make inexpensive and beautiful decorations. You could make a trail of stars for little ones to follow to the Christ child on Christmas morning.
Make a banner out of paper or cardboard with a favorite line from a Christmas song or Bible verse. There are several beautiful designs online you can customize to your style. String it across your dining room!
Set an extra seat and special table setting at your dining room table throughout the season of Advent to make a place for the Lord. This can serve as an ongoing symbol of our welcoming and longing for him to be present among us and for his return.
Decorate the Christmas Tree
Just as we prepare a house for a guest, the process of decorating a Christmas tree can serve as a reminder to intentionally welcome the Christ Child into our lives.
- Week 1: Make room! Clean out and give away excess clothes, books, kitchen equipment, toys and electronics
- Week 2: Reflect. Clean and arrange spaces for quiet, for reflection, for prayer and for sleep. Put on music while you clean and maybe light a candle. Finish with a celebration meal.
- Week 3: Move the bare tree into your home, keep the tree fresh and watered, but spend time waiting and expecting before decorating it. Maybe even start decorating it on Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday – candle of “joy” in the advent wreath), adding a little to the tree each day until Christmas Eve. This can symbolize the gift of rejoicing on the journey nearing the light of Christmas.
- Christmas Eve: Finish decorating the tree, maybe by adding figures of Adam & Eve to remember the gift of creation and our broken humanity. Invite friends to join the decorating and talk about how the tree is a sign of evergreen grace and the mercy of God made flesh in Christ.
- Blessing for the tree:
God of Adam and Eve, God of all our ancestors, we praise you for this tree. It stirs a memory of paradise, it brings a foretaste of heaven. Send your Child, Jesus, the flower of the root of Jesse, to restore your good earth to the freshness of creation. Then every tree of the forest will clap its hands, and all creation will bless you from these shining branches. All glory be yours, now and forever. Amen.
Make or purchase a wreath, arrange 4 candles around it (one for each week of Advent) plus another 1 for Christmas Day in the center. Set aside a time each week (Sunday morning breakfast? Wednesday dinners?) to read and consider the week’s theme as the candles are lit. There are different ways to do this:
HERE IS ONE IDEA that looks simple and is great for families.
HERE IS A BEAUTIFUL ADVENT WREATH you could invest in - and it can double for Lent. It comes with an Advent guide.
Supplies: Advent wreath & candles, lighter, Bible and weekly guide
Time Required: 15-30 minutes each week of Advent
journey through advent with the wandering wisemen
Follow this link to the Wandering Wisemen Activity Set from Fresh Wind Studios. It comes complete with hardcover children's book and 37-day family devotional, and 3 plush wisemen. This is geared especially toward young children.
Decorate a Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the Bible that lead to Jesus’s birth. Each day of advent you place a symbolic ornament on the tree and read or talk about the Bible story associated with it. Since Advent is a season of waiting, a Jesse Tree will help to build joy and anticipation as you wait for Christmas. You can print and color your own ornaments out of paper, make your own out of other materials, or purchase a set off Etsy or something similar. Here are a few links – please note that the symbols and passages used can vary from set to set…make sure your ornaments and the passages match.
Supplies needed: Bible, Jesse tree ornaments, daily readings to match and a "tree." This can be a branch, a small artificial tree, or a wall hanging.
We Wonder Advent Podcast - thoughtful, simple daily stories for advent - for children and adults. Coordinates with Jesse Tree stories.
Time Required: 15-30 minutes each day of Advent
books, video, and music for advent & Christmastide
Advent: The Season of Hope (Fullness of Time Series) by Tish Harrison Warren
Christmas: The Season of Life and Light (Fullness of Time Series) by Emily Hunter McGowin
Epiphany: The Season of Glory (Fullness of Time Series) by Fleming Rutledge
Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers together with Nouwen's Own Words
Paraclete Press has a lovely collection of many books & devotionals for Advent.
The Animals’ Christmas Carol by Helen Ward
An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
A Savior Is Born: Rocks Tell the Story of Christmas by Patti Rokus
Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey
Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (very mild crude humor, the audiobook is really fun)
Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
The Friendly Beasts by Tomie dePaola
Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide (there are more in this series)
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
The Lost Angel by Elizabeth Goudge
The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park
A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard Schneider
The Nativity Story (DVD 2006)
Bible Project (online videos) Hope, Peace, Joy, Love: these engaging videos are 2-3 minutes long and offer material for great discussions about the four weekly themes of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The presentation is visually engaging to captivate younger eyes, but the content is intriguing for disciples of any age.
Behold the Lamb of God (CD) by Andrew Peterson
There are many ideas for adults on this website.
"The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God."
- Joan Chittister