I love the Christmas season. I get giddy thinking about twinkle lights, peppermint-mocha lattes, and a Michael W. Smith Christmas album. The days are filled with sending and receiving Christmas cards, shopping for loved ones, wrapping gifts, cutting out paper snowflakes, watching movies, making cookies, attending festive events, and excitedly anticipating the actual day.
But I’ve had years when I’ve woken up on December 26th with guilt falling in my soul like a heavy snow. Amid the sadness of the season’s passing, I’ve realized I hardly reflected on Christ’s arrival. Sure, I had fun. But did I even take the time to appreciate what the whole season means?
This year, in order to more deeply value the season, I am committing to being intentional about celebrating Advent as an individual, and as a family. And it’s much more than just counting down the days until Christmas with a calendar.
Advent is the Latin word for “the coming.” Its history traces back to the Middle Ages as a way to anticipate Christ’s second coming and was a time of prayer and fasting similar to Lent. Later, it became associated with recognizing Christ’s birth.
It is traditionally celebrated the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and is a time to reflect on the first coming of Christ and looking forward to his second coming. It is commemorated with the lighting of candles, symbolizing Light coming into the world, and different aspects of the Christmas story and what it means for us.
Why Celebrate Advent
While people celebrate it in different ways, Advent is meant to be a time to slow down, practice gratitude, and meditate on what Christ’s lowly birth meant, and continues to mean. It is a time of love, joy, hope, and peace. I believe that, as believers, it is essential to take a step back from the vast cultural construct of Christmas and come back to the true heart of the holiday, and celebrating Advent is a wonderful way to renew our minds.
Celebrating Advent is also a way to stretch out all of the good things the Christmas season has to offer. Before we got married, someone gave us this advice about our wedding day: take time to pause, pay attention to what’s around you, take a mental snap-shop, and treasure it in your heart. The day will be over before you know it, she argued, and when you take time to stop and be aware, you can almost make time slow down. I can tell you, she was right. We invested so much in preparing for that day, and the day itself was incredibly symbolic, meaningful, and joyful. I am so grateful that I took the time to intentionally capture beautiful moments so I could look back on them always.
That’s one of the main reasons I want to celebrate Advent. I want to pause and take snapshots each day, to stop and appreciate the beautiful moments of the season with my loved ones, to reflect on the implications of Christ’s birth. I want to enjoy a season rich with meaning, one that I can look back on with contentment, not guilt or sadness.
How to Celebrate
This will look different for everyone. You can do as much or as little as suits you.
Lighting Advent candles is a beautiful, symbolic tradition. Our church has done it as long as I can remember, and we did it as a family last year. You can buy an affordable advent candleholder or make your own. Each Sunday of Advent, a new candle is lit. Some traditions have five candles, lighting the final one on Christmas Eve. Along with the lighting of the candle, songs can be sung, an excerpt of the Christmas story can be read, or an Advent reflection can be read.
Kevin’s family grew up with a tradition of waking up on the mornings of Advent to a special breakfast, and each person received a small gift. Since we’ve been married, we’ve exchanged small gifts each Sunday of Advent, and it has become a beloved tradition.
This year, we plan on celebrating Advent on Sunday evenings (mornings are too rushed for us). We will light the candle, sing a carol, share part of the Christmas story or read a picture book about the Nativity, then exchange gifts.
Whatever you do, choose something that your family will value. Your celebration can include a time of prayer, a craft, a meal, storytelling, reflection, special music. This article has some great ideas for families.
Some people like to celebrate Advent daily with calendars or daily readings. I personally have invested in this Advent book by She Reads Truth for this year, and look forward to taking time each day to read. I also enjoy that this book offers recipes, crafts, and opportunities for reflection in addition to Scripture. While I have not read them personally, I’ve heard wonderful things about Jennifer Naraki’s Slow + Sacred Advent and Paul Tripp’s Come Let Us Adore Him.
But if you can’t commit to daily readings, don’t worry. Weekly reflection, as an individual or as a family, can greatly enhance your celebration of Christ’s birth.
Weekly Advent Readings
I’d like to offer something to you, dear reader. I am writing four advent readings and will be posting one reflection on each of the four Sundays leading up to advent. My hope is that it you may find some hope and encouragement through it, and, selfishly, that the project will help me better prepare my heart for Christmas day. Look for the first this Sunday.
Tidings of Comfort and Joy
No matter how you celebrate Christmas this year, be sure to take time to remember what makes the season so important. Take heart these lyrics from the famous carol:
God rest ye merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay;
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!