Traditionally, the term “Advent” has referred to the first season of the Christian church year. Advent is a period of prayer, reflection, and fasting that begins four Sundays before Christmas, preparing followers to celebrate Christ’s birth and building expectation for Christ’s final coming. Even for Christians who don’t use the church calendar in their practice of Christianity, Advent is still a period of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
In the past several years, non-Christian Advent traditions have become increasingly popular (e.g., advent calendars that contain candy or toys, Elf on the Shelf). As a Christian, I want to make sure my family spends the weeks preceding Christmas focusing our hearts on Christ. If you feel this same way, then you may be interested in utilizing one of the Christ-focused Advent traditions described below.
Before we take a look at these, you may want to know why we are discussing Advent in the middle of the summer. Like most of the topics addressed in the Christmas in July series, we can’t wait until Christmas to think about Advent. At this point, it will be too late to implement a tradition! This is why I write the Christmas in July series—to help us plan and prepare in advance so we can avoid chaos over the Christmas season and maintain focus on the real reason we celebrate. (Read more about the purpose of Christmas in July here.)
Christ-focused Advent traditions
- Advent wreath. Advent wreaths are a simple, time-honored Advent tradition. Advent wreaths are made of evergreens, which signify continuous life. They are generally topped with four candles, one of which is lit on each Sunday of Advent. The specific symbolism of the candles varies by denomination. In Catholic churches, they typically symbolize prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices/goods works, and rejoicing (read more here). In Protestant churches, they often symbolize hope, love, joy, and peace. Families can share prayers and Bible readings as they light the candles on Advent wreaths in their homes. This is a particularly affordable and easy way for families to turn their focus on the Lord during Advent.
- Jesse Tree. Jesse Trees help families reflect on the people, prophesies, and events that preceded the birth of Christ. Jesse Tree readings from the Bible are accompanied by ornaments (e.g., the fall of Adam and Eve is symbolized by a tree with fruit, the Passover/Exodus is symbolized by a lamb, the prophet Isaiah is symbolized by tongs and a hot coal, the birth of Jesus is symbolized by a manger). There is one reading for each day of Advent and the ornaments are used to decorate a “Jesse Tree” (the name is taken from Isaiah 11:1). I learned of the Jesse Tree tradition and handmade a set of ornaments about a decade ago. This tradition is one of my favorite parts of Christmas and is so useful in helping my family maintain its focus on Christ throughout the Christmas season!
- Advent calendar. Advent calendars are an easy way for families to track the days until Christmas. As I noted earlier, there are a number of secular varieties of these, but it’s also very easy to make your own Advent calendar that focuses on Scripture. I’ve included links to two varieties here. The first (found here) is especially great for families with young children and the second (found here) is great for adults or for families with older children.
- The Christmas Angel. The Christmas Angel is a Christ-centered alternative to the Elf on the Shelf. The tradition begins with a story about a Christmas Angel and then continues throughout Advent with the Angel leaving messages that encourage the family to love and serve others.
- Shepherd’s Pouches. Shepherd’s Pouches are simple pouches or bags provided for each child in the family. Throughout the Advent season, parents (and other caregivers) watch the children in order to catch them loving and serving others (doing chores without being asked, giving to a friend, encouraging a family member, etc.). When parents witness these actions, the children are given money to be placed in the pouches. On Christmas Eve, the family gathers, tallies the money, and gives it to someone in need (click here to read how one family implements this tradition). This tradition encourages children to serve and reminds them that Christmas is about giving.
These are some wonderful ideas! Does your family practice any of these Advent traditions? What other things do you do to keep focused on Christ as Christmas approaches?
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