Advent comes quickly on the heels of Thanksgiving. While I’m planning the biggest meal of the year, one of my very favorite days could arrive and find me completely unprepared.
Advent is a season of preparation, a time of anticipating and waiting for the coming of Jesus. We’re reminded of our Jewish brothers and sisters who longed for the coming of the Messiah.
My goal is a joyfully imperfect Advent. Elaborate plans are doomed to fail, so I set the bar low and hope we’ll make it over half the time.
Join me in celebrating Advent in a way that blesses our families, doesn’t add stress, and turns our hearts and minds toward Jesus when all around us we’re being called to look to our own needs and wants, and be caught up in the frenzy of Christmas.
Jesus came because we need Him – once lost, we are found in Him – Advent leads us more deeply into that knowledge. Following are four simple Advent traditions; you’ll find resources at the end of the post.
Four Advent traditions
Traditionally Advent candles include three purple, one pink, and sometimes one white candle to light Christmas day. Many years, I’ve simply used the white candles we typically have on our dinner table. I’ve also made the mistake of driving around town at the last minute trying to find the correct colors with little success. Don’t follow my example, get them early.
This year I searched Amazon and found a few different options. The first is a simple set of five candles, three purple and one pink and one white. Another is a set of rolled honeycomb beeswax Advent candles that are really lovely. The last is a make-your-own beeswax Advent candle set with enough supplies to make three sets. Making them with friends would be a nice way to start the Advent season.
Arrange the candles in candle holders or an advent wreath.
I’ve never used an actual Advent wreath, but for years I had a candelabra that worked perfectly. Sadly, it fell off a cabinet and now only has three arms, so I set two candlesticks on either side and call it good.
Truly, anything will do. Five votive candles, or five pillar candles will also work. In fact, many people use only four candles, but we like a fifth candle to light on Christmas morning.
I often see Advent wreaths at thrift stores, especially late in November and early in December; now is a great time to look.
✤Make Your Table Festive✤
When possible, I put a red or green tablecloth on the table as well as a small nativity scene. Years ago I read an article by Noel Piper who suggested incorporating a small nativity scene with the candles to give children a tangible reminder of what the candles represent.
The flame is a symbol of the one who is called “the light of the world.” We who follow him “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
But we need to remember that our very young children will see only candles. No matter how much we explain the symbolism, they need some more years before they can comprehend it. That’s why I usually incorporate a manger scene into our Advent candle arrangement.Tangible is my guiding word. What children can see and touch, they might understand a little more clearly.
I like a child-friendly nativity set (even a partial set found at a thrift store) that can be played with at the end of a long Sunday dinner while the adults linger at the table.
✤Light the Advent Candles and Read an Advent reading✤
Each Sunday an additional candle is lit, so the light grows brighter as we move closer to Christmas day. As the candle is lit, we sing the first verse of, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, followed by a short reading that includes scripture.
For the third year we’ll read, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. The children are getting older, but I want our foster daughter, Zoe, to experience this tradition once with us. Hanging the ornaments on the Jesse tree and repeating the meaning of each one is a wonderful memory for our family.
If you’ve never experienced a Jesse tree, I highly recommend it. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift comes with a free download for ornaments to print and and color, if you like. One ornament is hung on the “tree” each day as you read. Our Jesse tree is often a bare branch stuck in a large vase. Last year I bought a large metal tree wall hanging; it looks fabulous as it fills with ornaments.
A special Advent book is not needed, there are also many free resources available online that include daily or weekly Advent readings:
Advent: He Keeps His Promises (dates are for 2013, but can easily be adapted)
I want to add that not everyone loves Ann Voskamp’s book; be sure to read the reviews yourself. Her writing style is very poetic, which some people find cumbersome to read aloud. I found a free resource online that uses the ornaments from Ann Voskamp’s book but substitutes readings from the Jesus Storybook Bible (which I love), making it easier for young children to understand.
I also found a link to her original free Advent devotional, A Jesus Advent Celebration, which includes a download for the ornaments. I printed mine on cardstock and then glued them to felt – that’s about as crafty as I get. [You can see them in the photo at the top of this post.]
Keep looking until you find something that is right for you.
We finish dinner with children taking turns snuffing the candles with the “special” candle snuffer as we clear the table.
We’ve also added the tradition of reading an evening chapter book by candle light from a series written by Arnold Ytreeide. The first book we chose was Jotham’s Journey, followed by Ishtar’s Odyssey. The series is recommended for ages 8 and up and is rather suspenseful for younger kids, especially those with vivid imaginations.
Russ is reading Alphabet of Dreams to the boys at bedtime. They haven’t discovered it’s a book about the wise men yet – shhhh, don’t tell them.
I’ve read numerous Advent devotionals over the years and included them at the end of this post with other recommended resources. Ann Voskamp, author of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, has an Advent book for adults, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, which also comes with a download for ornaments.
One I’ve enjoyed is Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative by Russ Ramsey.
✤Give our families a sense of anticipation and longing for Jesus✤
Lastly, we want our children to see the way Jesus changes hearts and lives – for the way He’s changed our hearts and lives. We are always desiring to move deeper into our faith and into His life for us. Jesus didn’t come to take our problems away, He came to journey through them with us.
He doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we hope he will, the way we think is best, but far better, He is Emmanuel, God with us, and we are desperate for Him.
During Advent I like to pray for friends and family as their Christmas cards arrive. This is a tradition we’ve lost over the years but plan to start again this year.
It’s that simple. I love tradition, I love Advent, and we’ll celebrate with all our imperfections which only serve to remind us that Jesus came for us just as we are.
If you’re new to Advent, grab a candle, put it on your table, click on one of the free simple Advent reading schedules in this post, and start today.
You might also like to try out some of the resources below.
Emmanuel, God with us. Oh, how we need Him.