This Sunday begins the season of Advent for western Christian churches. While it might be tempting to go from Thanksgiving straight to Christmas preparations, this skips an important season in the church year, which helps us fully enjoy the Christmas celebration.
Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ. We prepare not just for celebrating his birth, but we get ready for the second coming and remember how he comes to us in our daily lives. The time of the year is hectic and busy with activities at school, work, church, and in the community, as well as all the family expectations. There’s also the pressure to locate the perfect gifts for everyone on our ever-expanding lists while sticking to a budget and not over-commercializing the holidays.
In the midst of all this activity it can be easy to forget that Advent is more than some kind of pre-Christmas. With all that in mind, here some easy tips for incorporating this ancient church season into your modern family’s life.
1. Attend Advent Services
Last year’s list started with this advice, as well, but it bears repeating. Many churches offer special opportunities to come together as a congregation during Advent. See if there are evening or weekend options that work for your family. If there’s a meal with the service, consider going. No matter how busy we are as families, we need church. Show your children that services are a priority in your family. The best way to prepare for Christ’s second coming is to celebrate how he comes to us now—in church, through word and Sacrament.
2. Add Some Sacred Music to Your Life
This one is incredibly easy to roll into the family schedule. Pick up some CDs and play them on the way to work and school, or for the drive home. Download Advent hymns to play quietly as you eat supper together. Have you heard the saying that “Repetition is the mother of all learning,” or the older Latin version, “Repetitio mater studiorum est?” Make this idea work for your family by switching your normal musical choices to the hymns of the season and learn them together. You can tune into Advent music any time here.
3. Read an Advent Series Together
The actual book you pick will vary based on your church tradition and the ages of your children, but there are some really sweet books meant to be slowly read over the season. Some have activities and crafts, if that’s your thing, and some don’t. Substitute a section of an Advent serial in place of that normal bedtime story. You can find some ideas here.
4. Set Up a Nativity Scene
Last year I suggested setting up the Nativity scene in stages. If your family did this and enjoyed it, do it again! There’s nothing wrong with repeating actions from year to year and having things become family tradition. If the slow set-up of the Nativity isn’t really your thing, consider making a Nativity together through the season. Base the materials and how complicated the figures are by the ages of your kids and the amount of time you all have. Play-doh works great with younger kids, while slightly older ones might like mixing salt dough with their parents, cooking them, and painting them. There’s origami and other papercrafting options, Lego Advent options, and more. Be as creative as you want.
5. Enjoy Special Holiday Food
No matter how busy we get, we still need to eat. When you’re surfing Pinterest for new recipes, look for some holiday recipes that match things you ate as a child. Or look for ones that your grandparents or great-grandparents would have eaten in the winter. Have your kids help cook as they are able. Cooking together can be a sweet way to bring kids into the season, as well as a great way to discover just how much mess a toddler stirring can make. Enjoy.
6. Remember Your Neighbors
The holidays are lonely time for a lot of people. Are there people in your neighborhood, church, or other parts of your life that don’t have family around to celebrate with? Reach out and see if they want to join in your family event. Does your church visit nursing homes or shut-ins during Advent? See if the kids can go with and sing some songs. Bake cookies together and bring them.
7. Encourage Thankfulness
With all the materialistic leanings of secular Christmas, many families spend the weeks before the end of December paring down toys and clothes. If you do this, try sharing with those who don’t have enough. This is a way to remind our children that we are very blessed and to be thankful for all that they (and we) have.
8. Connect to History
Advent is a time of tradition. We also have smaller holidays this time of the year, like St. Nicholas’ Day in December, that provide a chance to remember all those Christians who have gone before us. The modern Santa has a historical background that can enhance the understanding our families have of Advent.
9. Wait to Start Christmas
When do you normally set up your Christmas tree and decorations? Do you do it during Advent, or wait for Christmas? Consider delaying the Christmas decorations until the end of Advent. We are often so quick to rush from season to season that we miss the nuances and activities of the actual moment we are in. Decorating for Advent and waiting to pull out the Christmas items is a way to not rush Christmas or overlook Advent.
10. Be Patient
We’re not perfect. All of the plans and neat ideas need to give way to the reality of life with children and schedules. Christ comes to us, in all the ways he comes, whether you make the perfect Advent decorations or not. If something doesn’t happen this year, try again next year.
The church year and its flow are good ways to help keep our faith central our daily lives. “And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27-28). Enjoy this Advent and the special times with your family this season.