Advent starts on a Sunday four weeks before Christmas. It’s 22-28 days long, and the focus is waiting. We share the anticipation of Israel as they awaited the Messiah, and we look forward to Jesus’ second coming to make everything complete. This post shares many ways to get ready for Advent so you can celebrate to the full.
I didn’t celebrate Advent growing up. Instead, it became part of my later adult life, and I love it. I love the Biblical focus, the slowness, and the rituals that can come with Advent. Although there are many ways to celebrate Advent with children and families—and I will touch on those here—it’s also a season of personal growth that can be entered into alone.
As I write this, Advent is a couple weeks away. (Here in 2022 it begins on November 27, the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the US.) That means there is still time to get ready for Advent, to make a plan to incorporate an Advent focus into your and your family’s life this year.
For some, Advent means a wreath. It sits on the table and has four to five candles on it. Candles are lit each Sunday during Advent. On the first Sunday, light one. On the second, light two, and so forth. Some wreaths have only four, one for each Sunday, and some have five, with the fifth being lit on Christmas Eve or morning.
Each Sunday in Advent has a theme, and honestly different groups have different themes. The most common set of themes is week one as hope, week two as preparation, week three as joy (often this is a pink candle instead of the normal white or purple), and week four as love.
If you head out to the internet, you can find all kinds of readings to go with your candle lighting. This one comes from Crosswalk.com:
- Week one: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7. Alternate readings: Psalm 22, Isaiah 2:2-5
- Week two: Isaiah 40:3-5. Alternate: Isaiah 11:1-10, Luke 1:26-38
- Week three: Matthew 2:10-11. Alternate: Psalm 146:5-10, Isaiah 35:1-10
- Week four: John 3:16-19. Alternate: Psalm 24:1-10, Isaiah 7:10-14
- Christmas Eve: John 1:14. Alternate: Psalm 96, Isaiah 9:2-7
For the Kids
It’s always fun to get ready for Advent with children. First, there are a myriad of Advent Calendars out there, usually with a small gift or craft or even service project for each day of Advent. Normally these start on December 1 and run through Advent. You can keep it as simple as purchasing a calendar or as complex as taking the time to make something from scratch.
Next, many who celebrate Advent put up a nativity without Jesus in the manger. Again, the theme is waiting and anticipation, so the baby doesn’t arrive until Christmas morning, just like the reality.
One tradition I’ve not done but love in theory is the Jesse Tree. Once again, this can be purchased or made from scratch. Set up a tree branch, and each day read something from the Old Testament that points to the Savior and then hang an ornament on the tree to symbolize the story. Ornaments can be purchased, printed, or handmade. The writer of one articles reads the passage and then has her children draw the symbols on cardstock so each year’s tree is a little different from the year before.
A great list of potential Jesse Tree readings can be found here, along with printable ornament files.
Let’s be honest here. Nothing says these traditions are just for children. If you celebrate the holidays without children, relive a little of your own childhood wonder by incorporating some of these ideas into your own month.
Devotions and readings
There are hundreds of studies, readings, and devotionals for daily Advent celebration. Some are aimed at children and families, many at personal growth. They can be purchased or read online. One online devotional can be found here and is especially good if Advent is new to you.
Personally, I published an Advent book of my own, and I’m going to take a paragraph to describe it. The book is full color, made for personal devotion or families, and includes a section of themed daily readings in the front and ways to celebrate Advent in the back—everything from journaling prompts to decoration ideas to spiritual disciplines to try through the season. Keep it simple and limit yourself to the daily Bible readings—all with beautiful, full-color landscapes and images—or go all out and work through many of the projects.
That book, called Until the Son of God Appears, is available here. Yes, I’m tooting my own horn, but I was really happy with this book and would love to share it with you.
Regardless, this is a great season to find a Biblical focus—a new study, some new spiritual disciplines—to help you on your personal spiritual journey.
An outward focus
Many use Advent to focus on the needs of the world. This season, as inflation rises and people are still reeling from a pandemic, there are a host of needs out there. Perhaps you and your family wish to do more for the community this season than normal. Set aside money for giving. Set aside time for serving meals or hosting events for the lonely among you. Get creative. Knit hats for the homeless. Do repairs at a shelter. Help an older person figure out her phone. Whatever skills or gifts God has given you can be shared, so look at your family’s assets and share those with the world.
Not feeling creative? This is the biggest season of giving, so many projects are already out there simply waiting for your participation. Angel Tree, food drives, toy drives… the list goes on. A few minutes of internet digging can bring lots of ideas of ways to focus outward for the season, giving the gift of hope to others just as God sent Hope to us on Christmas.
Around the house
We mentioned the Jesse Tree. The book I wrote also has tree ideas and printable ornaments to go with the daily readings. We also talked about the Advent wreath and nativities with an empty manger. If you are visual, these are a few of many ways to shift the focus of your home for the Advent season. Light is a big theme during Advent, for the “people walking in darkness have seen a great light”, so fill your home with lights.
Go beyond the visual. Advent music—both traditional Christmas music and specific Advent music—can change the household focus for the season. Scents, including special foods or oils (try the scents reminiscent of the Wise men, frankincense and myrrh.), can be used in diffusers or on the stove during the month. Some of the same celebrations used at Christmas—special dishes, a decorated tree—can also remind the family of the waiting posture of Advent.
Get ready for Advent
Armed with a few ideas, it’s time to bring it all together. Likely some of these ideas require planning ahead. Some require a calendar. So gather your thoughts here a few weeks ahead and decide how you’d like to celebrate Advent this year. It’s very personal, but here are a few ideas:
- Keep the season simple. Don’t pack the schedule full. The focus of Advent is waiting, so empty time becomes its own object lesson.
- Consider Advent services during the month at churches other than your own. Widen your perspective by worshiping with others, joining their anticipation and learning how the whole body of Christ prepares for His coming.
- Gather supplies early. If you want a wreath or a calendar, make sure you have everything on hand. If you think you already have everything you need, double check. I feel like the Enemy works hard to keep our focus wrong during this season, and a few missing parts can derail the best of intentions.
- Be flexible. Especially if you choose to incorporate extra service projects during this month, leave room for the promptings of the Spirit. A need may arise you never imagined, and likely that need will not follow your timeline.
- Slow down and savor. Hot chocolate, a warm fire, and a devotional about Israel waiting. Christmas lights and quiet holiday music on a cold evening. Sometimes the most memorable moments are the quiet, peaceful moments in between the plans. Make the most of them. Share them with your families. Let the holiday be a series of moments with God.
- If you want to focus on personal spiritual growth, choose a Bible study or devotional early. Set aside more time for Bible reading and study.
- Budget ahead. Some of these ideas take money. Look ahead at what you can do for free, what you can make instead of purchase, how to leverage time instead of money to serve and celebrate. For many the past year has been difficult, so don’t let this season make that worse.
The best time of the year
I have always loved Christmas. When I discovered Advent celebration, I loved it even more. I tend to keep things simple, focusing on readings and lights (I LOVE Christmas lights and candles!!). My favorite worship service of the year is Christmas Eve, when our church has a candlelight service.
However, if I don’t plan ahead, the season comes and goes. I need to put a little effort into getting ready for Advent, just like I have to put effort into anything good in my life. I hope some of these ideas and links can help you. If not, a short internet search can show you dozens more ideas and resources.
Let Advent be a time of slowing for your family. Let it be a time of spiritual growth. We are a people waiting for the coming of a kingdom, and Advent is a time we celebrate that waiting and the final end result, when we are united with Christ forever and made whole with Him.
Any thoughts or ideas on ways to get ready for Advent? I’d love to hear your comments.