Advent starts Sunday and here at UCC Longmont, we’ll be observing it in a couple of different ways. If you’re not familiar with the tradition of Advent, it’s observed for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. It’s the season of “getting ready” for Christmas—not materially, as in buying presents and baking cookies—but spiritually. It’s also kind of a time-warp season. During Advent, we read from the Older Testament prophets and remember all of the years that people waited for the Messiah. But we also remember that in many ways, we’re still waiting. For some people, that means waiting for the second coming of Christ. For others, it means waiting for the Kingdom/Queendom of God to come in all its fullness.
Observing Advent at home is a wonderful way to include children and capitalize on their excitement. Since they’re already counting down until Christmas, celebrating Advent gives them a hands-on way to mark time. For parents, adding an Advent practice is nice because it gives us a way to teach about the spiritual meaning of Christmas, rather than trying to convince excited kids that Christmas is about more than presents.
If you’re looking for ideas for Advent traditions, here are 6:
1. Advent Candles
We’ll be using Advent Candles again in church so doing them at home is a great home-church connection. They’re also nice in that they can be customized to how much time you have. The idea is simple. You start with four colored candles, either all purple or three purple and a pink, plus a white candle in the center. Starting the first Sunday of Advent, you light one candle. Each Sunday afterwards, you light another until Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve after dark) when you light the white one symbolizing Jesus. You can pair this with a weekly or daily devotional. In my house, we’ve done it all the possible ways. Some years we’ve done a daily Advent devotional after lighting the appropriate number of candles. Some years we’ve done the Advent wreath and devotional only on Sundays. Last year we didn’t use a devotional at all (I couldn’t find any I liked) but we lit the appropriate number of candles every night at dinner. This year, I’m planning on doing a few sentences of scripture each day.
This is the other tradition we observe at UCC Longmont. Chrismons are relatively new in the grand scheme of Christianity. They were invented in 1957, so they’re celebrating their 60th birthday this year. They’re also distinctly American. The idea came from Francis Spencer in Danville, Virginia.
Chrismons are white and gold ornaments. Each ornament has a symbol related to Christ. The Chrismon tree is a special tree dedicated to displaying these ornaments. Traditionally, the tree is decorated at the beginning of the season, which is how we’ll be doing it at the church this year. You can also make it an evolving practice by adding a new ornament every day or week and talking about its symbolism. That’s how we did it last year here at UCC Longmont.
3. Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree tradition is similar to the Chrismon tradition. It’s a tree decorated with religious symbols. However, the Jesse tree contains symbols from all through the Bible, not just just symbols of Christ. In fact, some traditionalist insist that a Jesse tree shouldn’t have any reference to Christ, only the things leading up to him. You can do this one at home with paper ornaments and read a scripture each day of Advent. I did these ornaments at home for a couple years. I printed them in black and white so we could color them each day but you can also print them in color and just hang a new one each day. No need for a separate tree, either. We used our regular ol’ Christmas tree and added these to our existing ornaments.
4. Reverse Advent Calendar
Those chocolate Advent calendars are a blast but in recent years, the reverse Advent calendar has become a popular idea. Instead of getting something each day of Advent, you put something in to be donated to a worthy cause or a person in need. (Last year we did a congregational reverse Advent calendar and collected food for the OUR Center.) Honestly, any old box or basket will do—you could even put it under your Christmas tree with the rest of the presents. But if you want a calendar that counts down to Christmas, I like this idea for using wine boxes. It’s pre-divided, which saves a ton of work.
5. Another Advent calendar idea is a scripture calendar.
If you have a re-useable Advent calendar that you fill each year, you can put a scripture passage in with the treats. You can also make a simple Advent calendar from envelopes or print a calendar page with the verse on it. I like this one.
6. Last but not least in my Advent tradition list is the Christingle.
Like the Chrismons, these are a new tradition. They have roots in the 17th century but became popular in the late 1960s. These aren’t super common in the U.S. but they’re fun. They’re also a one-time craft project so if you can’t tackle a season-long tradition, these are easy to fit into an afternoon and they create an opportunity to talk with your kids about the season. Plus they’re a fun snack. The basic idea is to take an orange, representing the world, and decorate it with candies or dried fruits representing the fruits of the earth and the four seasons. A candle in the middle represents the light of Christ. Better directions can be found on the Society for Children’s website, where this is a popular fundraiser for them.
However you celebrate Advent this year, I hope it’s a joyful season! And if you have a tradition you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it.