Christmas being the second most important feast day (behind Easter) on the Christian calendar. The celebration of Advent — whether with wreaths in church or calendars at home — is among these customs. On the one hand, it’s one of the major seasons celebrated by most Christian churches in the Western tradition: Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and many additional Protestant churches mark the roughly month-long period with special observance.
Advent is all about penitential waiting, and remembering the different ways that God in Christ has and will come to us. Advent reminds us that God isn’t removed from his creation. He came to us as a baby in Bethlehem, all those years ago, and he’s promised to return at the end of all times. In the meantime, he comes to us in church, through the Bible, and through the sacraments. Advent is a beautiful and important instructive season in the church year, not just a preseason placeholder.
But the word Advent comes from the Latin word for “arrival” — adventus — which means non-Christians can celebrate it simply as a fun countdown to Christmas. In that respect, it’s also become a marketing opportunity for retailers, mostly through Advent calendars, which have been around since the 19th century and have, of late, grown steadily more, shall we say, creative.
Most Advent calendars start on December 1. But the actual first day of the Advent season changes every year. In 2016, it was November 27. In 2017, it will be December 3. The final day is the same every year: December 24, Christmas Eve — though many calendars run through Christmas Day.
Advent calendars (in one form or another) were adapted some time in the 19th century by German Lutherans as a way to mark the days of the season leading up to Christmas. By the early 20th century, calendars were being manufactured and published in Germany, aimed at delighting kids during the holidays.
Adding Advent into the daily lives of your family can be as simple or as involved as you have time (and energy) for, but you should do it. Here are some ways to bring this season into your family life this year.
1. Go to Church
I hate to be repetitive, but I’m going to give the same advice I’ve given in the two previous years. Last year’s list started with this advice, as well, but it bears repeating. Many churches offer special opportunities to come together as a congregation during Advent. See if there are evening or weekend options that work for your family. If there’s a meal with the service, consider going.
No matter how busy we are as families, we need church. Show your children that services are a priority in your family. The best way to prepare for Christ’s second coming is to celebrate how he comes to us now—in church, through word and sacrament.
2. Think About Others in Need
Consider those less fortunate. We’re blessed in America. We have food and shelter, we have relative safety in our neighborhoods. Advent is a good time to remember those in situations worse than ours, and when possible do things to help them.
Consider involving your children (or just yourself, if you don’t have kids) in helping an orphan this Advent. Pray for children without families, and donate to funds to care for them. You might not be able to save the world this Advent, but you can make a difference in the life of one child.
3. Look Into Family and Cultural Traditions
Research your traditions and roots. All of us have a family history, and those histories can provide us with traditions and an understanding of our past, as well as ways to enrich our futures. From foods to traditional hymns and songs, find out what your ancestors did to celebrate seasons and how they spent time with loved ones. Add these traditions into the life of your family, and remember where you came from.
4. Hold the Decorating a Bit
Be patient with decorating. I love Christmas trees. They’re beautiful and fun to decorate, and it makes me cheerful to see the ornaments my family has collected over the years and generations. Consider waiting to set up Christmas decor, though, and look for some Advent-specific items, instead. Advent calendars are available to suit just about any life situation and taste, from beer ones to chocolate or Lego and more.
Are you a creative person? Make your own. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy decorating for Advent.
5. Bring on the Advent Music
Add some music to your day. We all know classic Christmas songs. Stores play them, the radio features them, they’re impossible to avoid. Some people even go into angry screeds about how terrible and pervasive the Christmas music is from basically Thanksgiving on. Bah, humbug, right? Switch to listening to some Advent music, and save those Christmas tunes for when it’s actually Christmas. Here’s a place to start.
Learning to wait with some patience is something that would benefit from all of us. Instant gratification isn’t realistic or attainable for most things, so use Advent to stop expecting it. Enjoy the moment, and be present in this season instead of just waiting for Christmas to hurry up and get here. You won’t be sorry for the effort you put in, and your children will thank you for it. Eventually. Learn about where you’re from and celebrate Advent this year.
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