Anticipating the Anticipating: Getting Ready for Advent

Christmas 2006, my advent calendar

Amazing home-made Advent calendar (Photo credit: zopeuse)

Christmas carols start wafting through shops earlier and earlier each year, but this year one thing about Christmas is later than usual.

The church season of Advent runs for four or so weeks before Christmas, helping us to imagine life before Jesus, and anticipate the celebrations of his birth. This year it begins on Sunday 2 December.

In New Zealand we tend to do most of our Baby Jesus church stuff in the Advent period because everyone heads away on holiday during the two weeks after 25 December that are technically the Christmas period.

Do you remember Advent calendars and wreaths and candles from your childhood? Do you or your kids celebrate Advent these days? It’s one of my favourite parts of the year.

We used to have those calendars with a chocolate treat behind a door for every day of Advent. Nothing like a bit of sugary bribery to get kids (yeah, just the kids, honest) into the spirit of counting down the days of Advent!

It’s a couple of weeks away yet, and I’m planning some Advent blogging, but there’s no point me starting an Advent discussion here when it has already begun, in case you get inspired to join in and then miss out of some of the fun. So, here’s a pre-Advent post to give you some resources and ideas in case you’re interested.

Single at Advent

There were some very thoughtful comments on the first two posts in our Single series (here and here), particularly about how single people and families can be part of each other’s lives.

Advent would be a great opportunity for this. All of the ideas below are extra things in a family’s life that can be hard to squish in, especially at what is often a pretty full time of year.

If you are single and interested in celebrating Advent, perhaps you could team up with a family with kids and provide some of the research or assembly or thinking to get Advent calendars, wreaths, prayers, books or something else happening for everybody. Parents, maybe you could invite a single friend to be the sponsor of Advent in your home?

Read or Build a Jesse Tree

This is my top tip – the ‘read’ bit, anyway.

I learned about Jesse Trees – which lead you through stories of Jesus’ ancestors like Ruth and David, one story for every night of Advent – from West Baptist, where lots of families with kids or grandkids use this excellent storybook by Geraldine McCaughrean.

For creative ideas, including making your own Jesse Tree (a bit too hard-out for me at this point), follow the links on the West blog, and see my article on Jesse Trees at Kiwi Families.

Advent Mealtime Traditions

Most kids love seasonal rituals, and of course the whole Christmas season is chock-full of them.

Whether or not you normally ‘say grace’ before meals in your house, perhaps Advent could be a period where you have a special mealtime tradition.

An Advent wreath is traditional, and many families have one at the dinner table. There are lots of links to Advent resources at TextWeek, including prayers and readings for wreaths and calendars. There are lots more ideas compiled here.

Your Advent mealtime tradition could be a grace that you all say together (for some ideas, see here, here and here) or take turns choosing or saying. It could be that at dinner every night of Advent, you take turns to say something you’re thankful for.

Maybe you could pray for children in a different country every night after dinner. (Paul has some resource recommendations for this if it takes your fancy.)

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday

Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something Else?

Did you grow up with a different tradition or have you seen something else you’d like to share? Ideas, please!

Some families have a special charitable or service project they do together around Christmas. I imagine this works best in the Northern Hemisphere, when December isn’t also the end of the school and work year and packed with parties and break-up functions!

You could also set up a Nativity scene. Trade Aid in New Zealand has some gorgeous ones that come with a free sense of satisfaction at supporting small businesses in hard places.

Obviously, Christmas trees come with a lot of potential for family traditions and sacred spaces. I’d love to hear what you do in your household (whether there are kids there or not).

We’ll have another discussion soon on how to do Christmas presents without going insane or becoming destitute, so save that stuff for later, but please go nuts with sharing other ideas for December in family life.

Over to you! What has worked for you?

Do you want to use one of these shiny sharing buttons?

0 comments on “Anticipating the Anticipating: Getting Ready for Advent”

  1. Kathy Reply

    With the nativity scene we only set up the stable and animals. Through out Advent Mary and Joseph moved each day through the house on their journey with Jesus only turning up Christmas Day and the wise men at Epiphany

    • not a wild hera Reply

      I love this idea. So good to have things sort of acted out in a tangible way. Readers should know that Kathy is basically patron saint of kids in church, as far as my experience goes!

  2. Chamberlain Chris Reply

    Yay for Advent! We have read an advent ‘novel’ quite a few times and our kids who are all teens now actually still ‘just’, tolerate it… a chapter a day from Dec 1 to 24 is the whole book: ‘The Christmas Mystery’ by Jostein Gaarder (author of Sophies World) isbn 0 75380 866 8 There are copies for sale on Trademe quite often at this time of the year…

  3. Alex Reply

    I’m not sure I’m the right person to kick off an advent discussion as one of your non-Christian readers, but having just sat at the breakfast table writing out a list of what we’re doing during December, I thought I’d pitch in anyway.
    We were never allowed the chocolate-filled advent calendars as children – just pictures behind our doors! – and since becoming a mum I have made an effort (increasingly difficult, I have to say, although Oxfam is usually a good bet) to hunt out non-chocolatey advent calendars for us. Last year was the first year M ‘got’ it, and he was genuinely very excited to see what the picture would be each morning. I thought I might get an advent candle this year too.
    One tradition I grew up with and always assumed I would continue was the decorating of the tree on Christmas Eve. I almost used to prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day – anticipation somehow felt just as exciting as fulfilment! However, my husband has so far persuaded me every year to put our tree up earlier than that, and I must confess I enjoy having the twinkling lights and the decorations up for longer than just the 12 days. I won’t go any earlier than ten days before though. There’s only so many times I want to sweep up pine needles!
    A lot of the entries on my December list are baking-related. I will get the kids involved in making mince pies (several rounds, if M’s enthusiasm last year is anything to go by!), they both gave the puddings and cake a stir when they were made last month too.
    This is all sounding very selfish… I will have to do more thinking about incorporating charity into our lives – generally, and particularly at Christmas, and especially as the children grow up. At the moment, my only rather lame contribution is to ensure I buy my cards and wrapping directly from a charity. At least then (I tell myself) the excessive consumption of card and paper is at least being sold in a good cause.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Well that list qualifies, Alex! You are brilliant and amazing.

      I find the traditional timing shifts in NZ really interesting. No one here would wait till Christmas Eve to decorate the tree (unless they have very strong and recent European cultural roots), because by then you’re either at the beach or on your way in a few days and you don’t get to enjoy it!

      And no one’s home to take down the decorations at Epiphany, so that tradition has completely passed us by. (Not just my family, who were once known to have Christmas decorations still hanging from the light fittings in September.)

      I think if we all directed our Christmas consumer purchasing to charities, the world would be a significantly better place. Well done, you.

      • Alex Reply

        To be honest, we were quite unusual in leaving our decorating to Christmas Eve, even when I was growing up, and I suspect it’s even rarer now. From FB I detect that several of my acquaintances put theirs up on 1 December… which seems very early to me.

      • Stacey Reply

        I had a conversation with a friend of mine about this last year. She is a traditional Catholic and observes all (or most) of the feast days. They decorate on Christmas Eve and leave the decorations up for the whole season of Christmas, until Epiphany.

        Like you, I figured our own family’s way of doing it was mostly pragmatic/holiday related, until I had a good think about it. I think it is traditionally more to do with being Scots Presbyterian by background – so Christmas was never a big deal in Scotland anyway, New Years/Hogmanay being the main event. And New Years needed to be celebrated by having a major house clean, and purging everything to do with the Old Year – so leaving Christmas decorations up was not going to happen. So in order to enjoy Christmas decorations for more than a week, we decorate all through Advent.

  4. Frank Reply

    Well, Lachie’s a bit little to understand what’s going on, although I’m sure he’ll enjoy all the paper and family time.
    I lived with a family in Thailand who had a great tradition, they made their own advent calendar, they had little parcels and each one had something in it. They didn’t put food in, but the pieces for the nativity scene (so baby Jesus was always in the last one), special ornaments for the tree, the name of a Christmas story/verse they would read together, or something for the family to do together – play a game, write a letter, do something for another family, go for a bush walk etc.
    I really liked it because it had the anticipation aspect of an advent calendar, while still being about Christmas, not treats and chocolate. Each thing captured the essence of Christmas I think.
    I want to do one too, but am wondering whether I start it this year or wait til next.

  5. Andrew Reply

    growing up, the “tradition” we had was being on the road camping on christmas day. Away from the stresses and expectations of extended family. Consequently we roasted chicken on an electric frypan at the karikari peninsular one christmas eve before driving up to cape reinga for a picnic under the lighthouse (accompanied by ~6 bus loads of japanese tourists who arrived 10 mins after we set up our picnic). Those are pretty cool memories.
    Given the tensions in keeping various arms of the family happy in spending enough time with them over christmas, i can well appreciate and may well implement the “lets be anywhere but within 100km of relatives” rule for christmas day.

  6. Georgie Reply

    When I was growing up Mum and I would always listen to Handel’s “Messiah” while doing the Christmas baking in the lead up to Christmas. I’m now doing the same with my girls.

    We have an advent calender this year for the first time (the picture kind!), and I can probably trust the kids with candles enough for an advent wreath this year. I’m also planning on taking them to the traditional advent services at All Saints this year too

    I love the idea of the Jesse tree, I don’t know if I’ll get organised enough for that this year though.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Lovely ideas!

      I really recommend the Jesse Tree book – it’s just a storybook that you read each night, rather than needing any activities. Then if you felt inspired next year – or the girls did – you could build on it then or whenever, but do the easy version this year.

  7. Pingback: Advent in Art #3: Nativity « sacraparental

  8. Pingback: Advent in Art #4: Shepherds « sacraparental

  9. Pingback: God, Kids and Parents: Call for Questions | sacraparental

  10. Raewyn Taylor Reply

    I pointed this resource out to Stu yesterday:

    It’s a Scripture Union UK Advent animation. One instalment per day through December. Only Episode 1 seems to be available so far, but it looks great. Think I will follow it daily.

    Also, I can highly recommend ‘The Christmas Mystery’ mentioned above. I have used it many times in the last ten years or so.

  11. Pingback: Advent with Toddlers | Sacraparental

  12. Angela Fraser Reply

    Wow this is such a great reminder to get my thinking cap on – due to always having little people around, being sleep deprived and juggling too many balls my best efforts in the past have been; dicussions over the dec month, and to bring in a christmas tree hunt by the 1st of dec instead of leaving it until christmas eve!! (not very inspiring huh!) Thanks for the thought provoking virtual kick up the backside to get onto this. Really appreciate your quality ideas and blogging around these topics!

  13. Pingback: Advent with Kids: 76 (or so) Ideas for Getting Ready for Advent | Sacraparental

  14. Pingback: Advent with Kids: Make a Jesse Tree! [Guest] | Sacraparental

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge