Most people think that there isn’t anything special going on between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most people would be wrong. There is a whole season, rich with tradition, whose whole purpose is to prepare us for Christmas. I was raised in a Catholic home, but you may be surprised to hear that Advent isn’t exclusively a “Catholic thing” [though like Lent, it often is associated with our church]. In fact, more and more I am seeing evangelical and non denominal bloggers encourage Christians to celebrate Advent. 70% of Americans say they consider themselves Christians, so why don’t they know about Advent? What even is Advent?! The word “advent” loosely translates from Latin to mean “arrival,” pointing to our anticipation of the arrival of Baby Jesus at Christmas. So, we have a whole season dedicated to waiting for Jesus, and that makes sense right? I mean, we all except the secularized version of waiting for Santa to bring us gifts. But what is the difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting for presents?
Preparing ourselves for presents usually involves making a list of our wants and needs, lusting over beautiful items in store windows [or online…], saving up money to buy things for other’s, and anticipating the arrival of these things. Preparing for a person is much different. Typically you clean your house, make sure you have food to offer that person, and if they’re some one you love, you are excited that they are coming over! Advent allows us to clean up our hearts by focusing on how to improve ourselves and how we can be more charitable. Like the anticipation of company, the anticipation of Jesus warrants a whole tradition of special recipes; there are many traditional advent dishes I never knew existed, but fasting or abstaining from eating too many sweets is also a tradition people used to practice to ensure they had plenty for a Christmas feast. And of course, we wait in joyful expectation for the birth of Jesus on December 25th. See the difference?
When we had kids, my husband very definitively said he did not want Santa to be apart of Christmas with our children. At first I was taken aback, but now I see the wisdom in this position. Of course, let me just say I don’t condem the practice of “Santa” he is a saint after all, and his bringing of gifts is arguably a Christian tradition. However, the way I want my children to view the Christmas season is more easily communicated, by me to our kids, when the focus of getting gifts and magical men in the north pole are absent from the equation.
Still, that left me wondering How do I get them to participate in Advent? Advent, though it starts long before Christmas, [it begins Nov. 29th this year…] does not warrant the halls to be decked with any sort of seasonal dressings. In fact, advent calls for us to abstain from most “Christmas” related activities until it is officially Christmas. As hard as this sounds, it is meant to intensify our anticipation of the coming of Jesus. So again, I’m left with the question, How do I celebrate advent? Well thanks to Christian bloggers everywhere, I’ve collected many different ideas and been inspired to create a few new traditions of my own.
Decorating even though “Christmas” decorations aren’t encouraged, the church is typically decorated with purple cloths, an advent wreath and candles. I plan to wrap the pillars on our front porch with purple tulle from the craft store, and hang a simple wreath on our front door, which will be symbolic of an advent wreath. Inside, I will have our actual advent wreath on our coffee table.
Music I know it’s hard not to bust out the Christmas music as soon as department stores begin playing it and putting up their festive decorations you know, the day after Halloween?] But did you know there is such a thing as advent music? Some songs may even be familiar to you like O come, O come Emmanuel. Songs about the joyful longing we have for Jesus can work as advent songs in addition to music about prayer, hope, and preparing the way of the Lord! That gives you a lot to work with in terms of songs you can listen to, leading up to Christmas day.
Traditions Lighting the candles on your advent wreath is the most common tradition, but advent calendars are a great way to get kids to participate! Also, making what is called a “Jesse tree” is another tradition that is new to me, but a great way to get little ones participating! You make ornaments that symbolize each of Jesus’ forefathers, and also important moments in salvation history. So one day you might hang an ornament of baby Abraham, and the next day you’d hang a rainbow ornament symbolizing Noah’s ark.
Feast days This is something that is definitely more geared for Catholics, but can be celebrated by others as well. St. Nicholas [aka Santa…] actually has a feast day in the church dedicated to him already. It’s on December 6th, and the tradition that goes with this feast is reminiscent of our Christmas stockings. You are supposed to leave your shoes out, and St, Nicholas will come and fill them with treats. This tradition came about because St. Nicholas would anonymously leave riches and food for the poor by placing the items at the doorstep, or in the shoes of the needy while they slept. Having grown up in San Diego, I know the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec 12th, which would be a great day to tell the story of Our Lady and St. Diego over a nice mexican food dinner. The next day, St. Lucia is a feast that’s popular in Sweden and Italy. Having lived in Italy, St. Lucy brought food and drink to her Christian friends, who were hiding in the catacombs from the Romans [it was not popular to be a Christian in her lifetime]. In order to light her way and still be able to carry the food and drinks, she places candles on her head. I’ve heard of some families who pick this feast day to put up their Christmas lights in honor of St. Lucia lighting her way to help the Christians.
The Nativity This is actually a festive decoration you can justify having out during advent, but there is a fun activity that goes along with it. Whenever one of your kids does some thing charitable, they get to place a piece of straw [or yellow yarn] in the manger, so that it will be nice and soft for Jesus when he arrives. Of course, this means you have to leave Jesus out of the nativity scene to get the full effect of this activity… but I love it!
Meditation Catholics are encouraged to go to confession in order to be pure of heart when Jesus arrives on Christmas, but even if you’re not a sacramental Christian, you can still prepare your heart by being prayerful until Christmas day. As mentioned above, you can use the season of advent as a time to work on a “new year resolution” ahead of time. Think about things you need to work on. Maybe take time to forgive some one you’ve been holding a grudge against. If nothing else, take time to relax and spend time with family instead of participating in the notoriously busy “christmas” that is advertised and pushed in secular society.
Sacrifice I know this one sounds scary, but I bet you do it already, even if you’re not a Christian! More people sacrifice entire paychecks to buy nice gifts for friends and family. Charity is a big part of preparing for Jesus. Whether you spend a little extra on a loved one, donate gifts to children in need, or offer your time to help the homeless, any sacrifice is a good way to honor the season of advent.
Did you know Christmas only STARTS on December 25th? That’s right, traditionally the Christmas season doesn’t even begin until AFTER December 25th! You know, the 12 days of Christmas? I think you’ve heard of it… Anyway, everything before December 25th is technically advent. So, while it’s tough to remove yourself from the green and red bonanza that begins November 1st in the shopping mall, give celebrating advent a try this year instead.