How We Came to Celebrate Advent, What It Means to Us, and How to Get Started

Are you familiar with the Advent season? Are you wondering how early to begin with your small children, or how to engage your older ones? Are you wondering if it's too late to start Advent or that it would be too complicated? Friends, I'd love to help by sharing our experience. 

I was not raised celebrating the season of Advent. The chocolate Advent calendars which always began on December 1st were as close as I got to the season. Many years later when Brad and I both became Christians, and eventually became parents, we knew we wanted to mark Christmas with joyful celebration and profound reflection so we thought a lot about how we'd do that with a young family. Early on, we decided not to include Santa in our Christmas festivities (though we have always given presents and most years we've had a tree). It wasn't for many more years though, that we'd incorporate Advent into our Christmas Festivities. 

Advent is the season preceding Christmas and is marked by celebrating the four Sundays before December 25th. For this reason, the date of Advent is always changing (it's Sunday, November 29th this year). Most liturgical churches celebrate Advent (think Anglican, Catholic, etc) but few Evangelical churches do, though that's changing. I believe our generation's desire for deeper roots and the comfort of traditions is what's leading many Evangelical churches and Christians to begin celebrating Advent. It's certainly what has drawn me in these past few years, but I digress. Advent is leading up to Christmas and aims to awaken joy and anticipation for the day of days, Christmas! When Christians all over the world celebrate the dawn of Salvation. The beginning of the greatest story ever told. The birth of the King.

There are countless ways one can celebrate Advent. Some celebrate Advent only on the four Sundays before December 25th, others (like us) celebrate every day of Advent, or every few days when schedules allow (also us). We intend to gather around the table and celebrate Advent every evening, but some days we run out of time or someone is ill or we're too tired and we say without guilt, tomorrow! Advent is a reminder of God's grace to us, so please don't let it turn into an obligation or source of guilt. If you miss a night, pick it up the next. If you miss a week, pick it up the next. If you're missing many evenings, consider that you've over-complicated Advent and simplify. 


For my family, Advent always includes the lighting of candles, the singing of a Christmas carol 
(which truly are the best worship songs ever written!) and the reading of scripture and memorizing of scripture (one naturally leads to the other), and is generally 10 minutes per day.

The symbolism of lighting four candles progressively through Advent is beautiful and tactile and one of my favourite parts! Young children are always in awe of flames, made even more special if other lights are dimmed, so as long as they are seated a safe distance away, I suggest using candles even from a young age. You don't need to spend a lot of money on a candleholder either. I've owned three over the years - two were thrifted for a few dollars and another was a $10 Ikea bargain. Or use whatever candles you have on hand. The point is light - representing Christ, the light of the world. We light one candle the first week, then the second week we light the first week's candle and the second candle, and so on. When all four candles are blazing, our hearts are too! It's a beautiful way to anticipate Christmas. 

The singing of carols began as a desire to teach our kids the lyrics to all the classics, especially since our church is French so they weren't learning them there. As our kids have grown it's sweet to hear them sing every word of some of our most cherished carols, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, O Come O Come Emmanuel, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Silent Night. I found an old Hymn book secondhand that has a whole Christmas section, so we sing from that but you could do any simple Google search to find the lyrics to your favourites. We choose a few each Advent and rotate through them until everyone knows the words. This is especially great for little ones who can't read but after repeated listening can memorize. 

Reading and memorizing scripture is the third aspect of Advent for us, and each year we change the passage. One year we read John 1:1-12 every day of Advent and by the second week my kids were finishing my sentences and eventually knew it all by heart. There were no drills or contests, simply the daily practice of reading the Bible. Other years we've read the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah (which were all fulfilled by Jesus Christ) or Romans 5:1-11, which isn't particularly Christmas-sy but is focused completely on the gospel. You could choose any passage! For us, the importance was just being in the Word together, taking it to heart, and focusing on the eternal promises of God in a season that highlights such temporary joys. 

Our kids were 3, 5, and 6 when we celebrated Advent for the first time. Inspired by a thoughtful mom friend (hi Brit!), I found a candle holder at a thrift store for a few dollars and bought some secondhand children's books that focused on the nativity. We gathered around the candles, lighting one each week and read a story. Later we'd add Christmas hymns and scripture, and the story would be read during other times in the day. It was simple, even with young kids, and oh so meaningful. 

Christmas so often seems to sneak up on us, doesn't it? The week before we're often frantic, racing to bake and buy and decorate, and the truth is, in all of this activity our faith can often take a back seat. The aim of Advent is to delight our hearts in Christ, who came at Christmas to save us from our sins. Starting a full four weeks ahead of Christmas gives us ample time to linger with the Christmas story, meditate on scripture, and form new habits. I don't know about you, but I'm terrible at waiting. Advent turns my impatience into joyful reflection with these small acts of lighting a candle and singing a carol. Advent has become in itself something we look forward to, which makes Christmas seem much richer and longer a holiday. 

Advent teaches us to wait well; refocusing our hearts on the real meaning of Christmas, lessening the power that temporary treasures have on our hearts, and savour the saviour. This year is our forth year celebrating Advent and these last four Christmases have truly been the best ones. We arrive at the tree on Christmas morning not looking for the gifts to fill us, but with hearts already full of joy and worship. Jesus Christ is our greatest gift and Advent builds our affections so well.

 ps - Tomorrow I'll be sharing some of my favourite tools (devotionals, games, books) that I bring out at Advent each year and help enrich the season, if you'd like some more practical suggestions!

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