The season of Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. It is an annual reminder to celebrate and appreciate what the Christmas season embodies: endless hope, bountiful joy, unreserved love, and altruistic giving. The word advent is derived from the Latin word for coming. We are to be preparing our hearts for the coming of the greatest gift of all.
Advent calendars can be found in almost any store around this time. Usually made from thin cardstock with perforated slots containing poor quality chocolate, they advertise “joy” and “fun” inside… but is that really true? And why is it a tradition many partake in today? Advent calendars date back to the mid-1800s when people would put chalk marks on their doors counting down the days until Christmas. In the early 1900s the first printed calendar was made with little colored pictures for children to affix on a larger picture (usually of a Christmas tree). They evolved to contain little “windows” that opened up to show picture scenes or Bible verses of the Christmas story. The chocolate pieces were introduced in the 1950s. The LEGO company even produces their own versions of the calendar every year with a mini piece or set to put together each day (costing a little more than the ones containing chocolate). While I know the promise of a piece of chocolate (or a LEGO minifigure) every day is tantalizing, I hope to create a more meaningful Advent experience for my family – one that will bring to life the magic, wonder, and reverence that Christmastime has to offer.
I purchased this magnetic tin-covered display from Starbucks one year (containing chocolate, obviously) and decided to repurpose it with my own “treats” inside. It has become a family tradition of ours for the kiddos to take turns each morning opening the right tin and telling the family what we’ll do that day.
I compiled a printable list of activities (that I linked below) that I hoped would be fun in some way for all involved. Some ideas are simple; others take some planning. I wanted to make sure I incorporated acts of giving in order to remind my children about the real reason for the season. I usually sit down sometime in the end of November and plan out the calendar. I print a blank December calendar from online and look at our family calendar for any set plans that might interfere with an Advent activity. Then I start plugging the ideas in my paper calendar and slipping the folded pieces of paper in each corresponding tin. Some days are the same every year. For example, we read about St. Nicholas on his feast day (December 6th). St. Nicholas is believed to be the original inspiration behind Santa Clause (or, Jolly Old St. Nick). You can read more about his life hereor with this great children’s book available on Amazon: The Legend of St. Nicholas. (As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases, so thank you if you purchase from this link. 😊) I recently discovered that December 12th is known as National Gingerbread House Day so you can bet that’s when I plugged in that activity for sugar-overload. We also think it’s fun to eat dinner by candlelight on the longest night of the year, December 21st.
Advent calendars can be presented or displayed many different ways. A simple Pinterest search will show you that you can string a ribbon from corner to corner in a doorway or over the mantle and use clothespins to attach the little cards or envelopes with ideas. Or you could use an over-the-door shoe organizer (with 24 slots) to slip in items or cards. I’ve seen the strips of paper collected in a mason jar and family members take turns to pull out an idea every day- this makes each day a surprise!
In secular society, the typical Advent calendars begin on the first of December and either go through the 24th or 25th. But, in the Western church practice, the Advent season actually begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (so for this year, that is December 2nd) and traditionally uses an Advent wreath with three purple candles and one pink candle to count down the weeks. There are devotions and themes to concentrate on each week, usually with the first week focusing on hope. Also referred to as the “Prophet’s Candle”, it reminds us that Jesus is coming. The second week’s focus is on faith with the “Bethlehem Candle”, reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s dutiful journey to the city of David. The pink candle is lit during the third week to represent joy. With this “Shepherd’s Candle,” we remind ourselves of the utter joy the lowly shepherds experienced when the angels announced that the Son of God was born. The final candle, the “Angel’s Candle” inspires peace as we reflect on their message, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.” This season can be an extraordinary season of reflection and spiritual growth if you allow yourself some time to reflect on those themes and how they can apply to your daily life.
No matter how you decide to create a memorable Advent season this year, I hope you do so with a relaxed spirit and a peaceful heart. Stressing out over projects or adding “one more thing” to the growing list of things to do this month will negate the proposed outcome, right? I’d love to hear from you if you have any special Advent season or Advent calendar traditions in your family! Or did you have a special tradition growing up that you look back on fondly?
Happy Advent, beloved!
“We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19, NIV