Faithful Beginnings contributor Josie Ortega shares the Advent traditions that work well in her family.
We’ve talked about Making Room this Advent season, creating time and space for what matters most. Our family has landed on a few priorities: counting down with our own version of the Advent Calendar, and lighting the Advent wreath candles at dinner. (Also: movies. But that’s another story for another day.)
The Advent Calendar for Family
Soon after our oldest daughter turned one, we wanted to begin using a family Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas.
Options abound. There are Advent calendars with chocolates or other tiny treats behind doors. Now we’re seeing Advent calendars for adults, with a different cheese or beer to try each day of December.
And recently, I heard about the concept of the “Reverse Advent Calendar”. Instead of giving small gifts or candies to ourselves and our kids, we could collect items for organizations in need in our communities.
In Denmark, it’s common to light a kalenderlys—a pillar candle labeled with numbers 1 through 25 that a family burns for a few hours each evening. Another great idea is to wrap up 25 holiday books so that the children can open one each day, fostering a wonderful ritual of reading together.
In my first Advent calendar attempt, I was inspired by this charming Pinterest image:
Unfortunately, that woman’s socks were a lot more charming than mine.
When my husband returned home from a trip, I was excited to show him the results of my creative craft time. He liked the idea of the Advent countdown. But when he looked at the strand of socks, he asked, “Will people think we’re drying laundry or something?”
No, no! It’s cute! It’s like stockings! For Christmas!
“Yeah, I like it. Maybe we can hang it in the bedroom. Or in my closet.”
What a Scrooge! Fortunately, we found red craft paper, clothespins, and brown lunch bags, inspired by this Pinterest pic. Though I grumbled as I cut and pasted numbers, I couldn’t deny that version two came together beautifully.
Advent Calendar Success
We’ve stuck with this Advent calendar for several years and in several homes. I place figures from the nativity scene inside the bags, as well as other ornaments and decorations. It’s become the backbone of what we’re doing as a family, whether simple or elaborate.
From the beginning, the one-year-old got the hang of it quickly. She went bonkers reaching into the bag each evening to find the next surprise. Now with three kids, we have to coordinate an elaborate system of taking turns, ensuring that the December birthdays receive bag-opening privileges on the correct night.
As bags are removed—or doors are opened, or the candle burns down, or whatever a given version looks like—the Advent calendar serves as the perfect visual aid for both kids and adults who struggle with the concepts of time and waiting.
I can’t guarantee that my children will look back on this fondly, though I certainly hope they do. And I hope that as the years go by, the conversations that we have around the Advent Calendar will sink more deeply into all of our souls.
Create a Fantastic Advent Wreath
This one falls under Don’t reinvent the wheel. What’s going on at church? What’s going on at school?
We don’t need to search far or develop something new and original to bring a sense of depth to the holidays. Your church may have a scripture reading plan for December. Or you might find a simple way to reinforce whatever the Sunday school lesson was about each week. Our school’s PTA offers an opportunity to shop for gifts for families in need in our own community.
Many churches, including ours, light candles on an Advent wreath on the four Sundays before Christmas. So that’s what we do at home, too.
If your household eats dinner together—or breakfast, or whatever time you have—light one candle the first week, two the second week, and so on, every evening that the family is together. On Christmas Day, light the fifth candle in the middle.
If you’ve burned down some of the candles and need to replace them before Christmas, take it as a great sign that you’re spending quality time together. (This makes me feel good and distracts from all the dinnertime whining. I’m sure no one at your house is whining.)
The growing light will teach us something about light breaking into darkness. Candlelight mesmerizes adults and children alike.
Create Your own Family Advent Wonder
A mentor once told me, Faith is caught, not taught. In other words, we can worry less about drilling our kids for the correct answers. But, if you’re hoping to develop meaningful and memorable traditions with your family, it helps to think about ways to create an atmosphere of wonder and deeper purpose during Advent.
As much as I’d like to force my kids to have the appropriate emotional response, that’s not something I can control.
But trust me, kids love traditions and they LOVE candles. They’ll begin to catch the Christmas wonder.
For more resources, check out Lisa Robertson’s Daily Advent Devotional at familyapp.com/advent