Advent is my favorite liturgical season of the year. I love the preparation, the anticipation, and the invitation to dwell with what it means to wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Of course, with three Christmas-crazed kids, this season of waiting can bring a tricky balance. How can we enter into the spirit of Advent as a family when the whole world is already spinning with Christmas?
This year, as a mom who finds herself expecting again during December, I’ve lowered my expectations for elaborate celebrations. So here are a few simple ways we practice Advent at our house. Some years we try them all; some years we settle for one or two. (Low-stress is always key with kids, isn’t it?)
I invite you to leave your own ideas in the comments below. How does your family make the weeks before Christmas special and sacred?
My husband and I both grew up with the tradition of lighting candles on the Advent wreath. So every night we let our kids light—and then blow out (such big privileges for small ones!)—the week’s candle. We add a short Advent hymn to the end of our table grace, too.
Simple rituals, but they help us set a different mood for dinner during this darkest season of the year.
We also made an Advent countdown chain with one name of Jesus for each day (I love the variety of my friend Abbey’s list of names/verses here). The kids get excited when they hear one of the names at church—Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, Morning Star—and I’m grateful for the chance to pull out the Bible at breakfast with them and read a short verse to get our day started with something other than squabbles about cereal.
A few years ago, I decided to add some Advent music to our collection of Christmas CDs. On Facebook I posed the question of favorite Advent hymns, and plenty of friends who work and serve in churches offered heaps of suggestions. Thanks to iTunes, I downloaded a playlist worth of Advent songs and hymns. Voila—an instant antidote to the constant jingle of “Sleigh Ride” on rotation from our local Christmas radio station. (Here’s a link to our family’s playlist if you want inspiration of your own.)
Now we listen to our Advent CDs in the car during December, and it’s lovely to have beautiful hymns and words of waiting fill our drives through the dark and cold.
This year we’re adding something new to our family Advent: a nightly reading from the Jesse Tree, connecting Scripture stories that lead up to the birth of Christ. In my Catholic school growing up, we used to listen to these readings each morning over the crackly P.A. system, and I loved hearing all the favorite Bible stories from Creation through the Nativity. We have a beautiful felt set of ornaments for our Jesse Tree, but there are many versions of paper ornaments that you can color with your kids, too.
Finally, I’m making my own prayer time a priority this Advent, too. With two friends and fellow moms-of-littles, I helped write an Advent Scripture study called Waiting in the Word. Using the prayer practice of lectio divina, the study invites a slow reflection on one short Scripture passage for each day of Advent. I can see now that Advent in the past lacked this meditative, mindful piece for my own spiritual life. So I’m hoping that spending a few more minutes in prayer each day will help me enter into the mystery and preparation of this season.
What are your practices or plans for Advent? How does your family celebrate this season?