A Meaningful Advent: Our Traditions
Over the last several years, God has been slowly stirring my affections for the seasons. Not only for the beautiful and intricate design of the yearly seasons, but for the Church calendar, and the rhythmic way that God has designed our year to pull us in to His bigger story. The beginning of the church calendar starts with Advent, and it's become an exciting time of anticipation for our family. There is a sense of longing for Christ's coming (as well as His return), and a slower pace of reflection on the past calendar year and what God wants for us in the coming year. I want to share with you what we are currently doing to make Advent/Christmas special, savoring every bit of the season as it points us to the coming Savior.
MY STORY & SOME BACKGROUND
About three years ago I began feeling very unsettled the closer Christmas approached. This unsettled feeling caused me to react by purge a little more of our belongings every year. First it was some decor that felt cheap and didn't bring us joy. Then we stopped sending out Christmas cards. Finally last year I realized that most of the decorations we were putting up in the house weren't guiding our hearts to Christ, but rather mimicking the world around us.
This year a giant tub full of Christmas decorations is sitting in our shed, soon to be donated, while the things that matter and stir our affections for Christ remain in our home. Evergreen is an Advent color, symbolizing continuous life, so I chose to add touches of greenery all around the house. All of our snowmen, Santa's, bright red and green kitchen towels, etc. are out. I finally came to terms with the fact that none of this is my true style (almost all of it was inherited), and that the clutter of it all was driving me crazy, making me antsy to take it all down way before Christmas day came around.
This year I feel so calm as I walk into our home. We have two small children under the age of 4, so I like to keep things simple, yet meaningful around here. Apart from decorations, we have some traditions that are finding their footing in our family. But first, what is Advent?
WHAT IS ADVENT?
Formed from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival,” Advent is the traditional celebration of the first advent of Jesus in humility and the anxious awaiting of His second advent in glory. The season is a time for remembering and rejoicing, watching and waiting. In American Christianity, we’ve got that first part down. As soon as Thanksgiving is over (and sometimes even before), we start putting up the tree and listening to our favorite Christmas songs. There’s nothing wrong with doing these things, of course, but the whole point of Advent is to spend several weeks—four weeks, to be exact—preparing for Christmas instead of celebrating Christmas. It’s about stepping into the shoes of the Israelites, longing and crying out for the Messiah to come. It’s about reflecting on our sin and shortcomings and our need for a Savior. It’s about looking around at our broken world and hoping for the second coming of Jesus. And, once we get to Christmas Day, the celebration of Jesus’ birth becomes that much more spectacular and meaningful. *
* Source: Seasons Guide by The Village Church
WASSAIL FEST & DENTON CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING
This is a staple in our community, and we go every year. They have a live Nativity, performances from local artists, horse carriage rides, and lots of shops in our downtown square serve wassail, hoping to win best wassail by community vote. It's so cute and special and we love it as the kick off to our Christmas season.
THE GREATEST GIFT, JESSE TREE
I ordered this book last year after Christmas and have already fallen in love with it. I read the introduction and instructions to Reaghan the other day and teared up! I can't wait to dig in and try this out this year. We will be reading each story as the kids bedtime story and then I'll keep a little bowl of the Jesse tree ornaments for her to hang on our "tree."
This is something I like to do for all the seasons and holidays. Read Aloud Revival has some great recommendations which I pulled from this year. I also pulled some titles from this list, and got them all from the library.
For myself, I am currently reading Rhythms of Rest by Shelly Miller (highly recommend!) and I'll read Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller next. Reading really refreshes me, and I like focusing my book reading during the Advent season on this topic so I can continually renew my mind with it.
HOT COCOA & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
Every year since we got married we have gotten in Christmas jammies, poured some hot cocoa and driven around town to look at the Christmas lights. Last year with Reaghan being 3, it was so magical, so I can't wait to see her reaction this year!
WATCH THE NUTCRACKER
I don't know how this started, but I have always been obsessed with the Nutcracker. It might have something to do with dancing ballet for 11 years, or maybe my mom really loved it and passed that on to me? Either way, I love this ballet and story. There have been years when we have seen it on stage (just Jordan and I), and then there are years (like this year) where we will just watch it on TV :)
By beautiful serendipity, Jordan's Gran gifted him Nutcrackers of all sizes and styles all through the years of his childhood. Of course this was my dream come true when we got married, and a little God wink that he married someone who would appreciate them. We don't really have the space for all the big ones, but I like displaying a few on our mantle in the entryway.
This is a first for us this year. I saw Risen Motherhood share about this candelabra from the Hearth & Hand collection at Target and it was perfect. It sits as our centerpiece on our kitchen table and I love looking at it as I go about my day. It reminds me that there was so much darkness without Christ and now that He has come, the light shines, but that our world still waits in darkness until His second coming. It reminds me of the hope of the promise that He will come again. This year I've chosen to do 3 black candles representing the darkness, and 1 white to represent the light of Christ. Traditionally 3 purple and 1 pink are used, but I think there are lots of variations on this. I filled the glass box with some fake eucalyptus and some pine cones I got from JoAnnes.
Each Sunday we will light a black candle until Christmas day when we will light the white one at breakfast and celebrate!
ADVENT CALENDAR BY SHE READS TRUTH
I love this simple and cute advent calendar. The illustrations are cute for kids but not too kid-ish that it turns me off. I love looking at the pictures and having it displayed in our living room as a focal point. This calendar is actually 29 days, since Advent falls between November 27th and December 3rd, so we've already started it this year. There is one verse on the back, and questions that grow with your kids. Right now we are on the first question for my kids age and the answers are one-word answers. Short, sweet, and to the point. We usually read these at breakfast since they are so quick.
COOKIES TO OUR NEIGHBORS/FRIENDS
I just bought Danielle Walker's Celebrations cookbook before Thanksgiving and have become obsessed with it. She has some great Christmas treats like gingerbread and marshmallows, all Paleo. This year we will definitely be making our own marshmallows to go with our hot cocoa (also in the cookbook) for our Christmas lights night, and we also plan to make gingerbread men! We have a precious book in our book basket called Gingerbread Baby and I hope to read it and make them one morning. All that to say, we may make a double batch and deliver some treats to neighbors and friends to encourage their spirits.
We attend out church's Christmas Eve service and typically have dinner with my parents on Christmas Eve, doing presents with them. Regardless of what we do this day, we always go home after so we have our own special Christmas morning at home with just our little family. This year since Rae is older, my plan is to sneak into the kids room after bedtime and put their stockings next to their beds. I want them to wake up and be really surprised when they see their stockings. We will have practical stuff like socks and underwear, but I'm also adding a special treat and ornament stickers so they can decorate a tree (I'll probably just draw it on some construction paper) while I'm finishing up breakfast.
Ah, this morning is so special because it's what all the anticipation of Advent is leading up to! I want to make Christmas morning so much more than just opening presents. It is a celebration of the Light of the world coming from Heaven to be with us. Immanuel: God with us. It's beautiful and sacred and celebratory, so we hope to make Christmas morning just as exciting in all ways.
A reading of the Christmas story from the Bible during breakfast, of course having a special breakfast (probably from Celebrations too), lighting our last Advent candle, and singing some Christmas hymns. We will definitely open gifts too, but will probably wait until after breakfast to do so. I think reading The Greatest Gift will help, since I think it discusses all month long how Jesus is our greatest gift. Anyway, gifts are awesome! I just want to help the kids know for sure that it's not about the gifts, but about God sending Jesus to the world to save sinners like us. Later in the day we have cupcakes or a cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus. Reaghan LOVES this part!
Last year we got this Little People Nativity set and the kids are obsessed with it. They play with it all the time while it's out, and it's fun to be able to use the pieces to share the story. I also created a felt board nativity scene last year that they love to play with. I think when anything is tactile, so much learning happens and I've noticed so many more questions about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men because they are actively playing with them all day. It's cool to see the conversations that come from it.
CHRISTMAS MEMORY BOOK
This is a simple little activity we do after Christmas. There is space in the book to paste a family photo from the year and write down all the special things you did - food, traditions, family you saw, etc. My hope is that we will look back on our memories through the years and that the kids will cherish this keepsake when they are adults.
Gentle Leading Our Deliverer Advent Devo - This devo is simple, gospel-rich and written by some amazing women. When you sign up, you will get an email every day of December with that days devo and application questions. Finding this mid-December or later? Just sign up and you can still go through the devo on her blog as well. I had the joy of contributing one day for this devotional, so that's fun :)
TVC Seasons Advent Devo and guide to the liturgical year - This is a great resource not only for Advent but to learn more about the liturgical year and put it's remembrances into practice.
Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions by Noël Piper
The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson
What about you? How do you celebrate Advent and do you have any traditions to share? I'd love to know!