How Celebrating Advent Changed Our View of Christmas

Posted by Amy Walker: From the Desk of the Head of School on December 03, 2017
Amy Walker: From the Desk of the Head of School

How Celebrating Advent Changed Our View of Christmas

Why Celebrate Advent?

Years ago, my family decided to celebrate Advent as part of our home worship time so that we could bring balance to a holiday that had clearly become way too commercialized. It quickly became one of our favorite Christmas traditions and each year, we invited a different family each week to join us on Sunday evenings to light the advent candle, read Scriptures, and worship through song. What’s even more interesting, though, is how it began to transform our view of Christmas all together.

Because celebrating Advent fed that hunger in our souls to worship Jesus, we began to look for other things that would do the same, which is how we stumbled upon The Advent Conspiracy. Soon our focus shifted from “self and getting” to “others and giving." For example, instead of trading gifts with their local cousins, we planned activities together, such as decorating cookies and delivering them to a food kitchen for the needy. Another year we worked together to make blankets for a children’s home. Over the years we added other activities or events to our family traditions such as bell ringing for the Salvation Army, filling shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child, and purchasing items for the needy in foreign countries, such as a goat or chickens.

What is Advent?

Prior to the sixth century, the early church eagerly anticipated Christ’s second return and set aside a season or time to focus on the Second Coming of Christ. This early form of Advent was referred to as parousia (presence; arrival; official visit in Greek). Around the middle ages, Advent (from the Latin word Adventus meaning “coming” or “visit”) shifted in focus to emphasize a preparation to celebrate Christ’s first visit and was associated with the birth of Christ and Christmas.

Like many of our church celebrations, changes in the focus and practice of Advent have occurred over the years. Today’s Advent celebrations are part of the liturgical church calendar where Christians around the world prepare spiritually not only to celebrate through worship the first coming of Christ over 2,000 years ago, but for His second coming as well through the practice of expectant waiting.

Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and culminates on Christmas day. Each Sunday, something different is emphasized through Scripture and an additional candle is lit on the advent wreath.  These candles are typically purple and pink (in keeping with liturgical vestments) signifying hope, love, peace, and joy. The fifth candle is white and referred to as the Christ candle.

How to Choose Your Advent Practices?

Once you start looking for these new traditions (Pinterest is full of options), you could quickly fall into the trap of too much of a good thing! Rather than making too many changes at once, we chose to try one new thing each year or two. Then if we liked it, the practice or activity became a tradition. If it caused us to be busy and not worshipful or grateful, then we didn’t do it. And some years we needed to opt for less.  

When choosing your advent activities, ask yourself:

  • Will it be age appropriate long term? (Avoid dummying down - kids will eventually “get it”)
  • Will it help us worship meaningfully or move us to serve others?
  • Will the preparation or commitment to it cause us unnecessary stress?

One of our favorite Advent practices included a daily countdown. There are dozens of variations of this activity, but ours involved a simple red and green paper chain made of construction paper where they tore off one link each day. Adding a scripture to each link provides a brief daily devotional time as well.  

As children get older, they may have fun making Scripture chains for another family with little ones as a pre-Christmas gift. But don’t let the worship opportunity end when they outgrow these! Have them participate in a daily Scripture reading aloud at dinnertime or when everyone is gathered.  Our family loved the series of Advent Storybooks by Arnold Ytreeide. Even into their teen years, they were captivated by what would happen next in this fictional drama with discussion questions (pre-read for age appropriate content).

In our affluent culture, it may seem the holiday season will forever be commercialized. But by making intentional decisions to include more worshipful practices each Advent season; your family can transform Christmas!

Learn about How to Be Too Blessed to Be Stressed for Christmas from last year's blog post!


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Topics: Christmas, Christian Parenting, holiday