Advent: Why it matters (and how to do it sanely)

Can you even believe we’re already talking about Christmas? It seems like it was just summer. Our live-chat on the Facebook page last week surprisingly put me in a holiday mindset. (It was so fun).

But my mind isn’t focused on a Decorate All The Things way (though it’s getting there)—the switch for me was more internal, about my heart and my attitude. Sure, I’ve been working on my holiday to-do list—ordering cards, buying a few gifts, penciling events on our calendar. But I don’t feel stressed right now. I feel joyful with anticipation. I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year.

I love the Advent season. There’s something special about the anticipation of something, about enjoying the destination towards a grand event. Advent comes from the Latin word that means “arrival”—it’s the anticipation of a notable person, thing, or event. And since I’m a Christian, this means that for me, Christmas is about anticipating the arrival of Jesus Christ.

Now, I know not everyone reading this blog shares my worldview, and that’s totally fine. As always, you are completely welcome here. Really.

Simple ways to savor Advent, on The Art of Simple

Regardless, I feel compelled to encourage each of us to not wish away the holidays, nor to speed up the entire season in order to make merry on one day in December. Savor it. Live slowly through the season. Enjoy the ritual of preparation, and of soaking in the rhythms so many around the world celebrate in unison.

Today I’m sharing some resources that help me in preparation for Christmas Day—to enjoy days one through twenty-four. It makes the twenty-fifth all the more special.

1. A guidebook to help me focus

My friend is a contributor in a four-volume series called Let Us Keep the Feast—the first one released about a month ago (my friend’s words are in the forthcoming one covering the Easter season).

advent candles
Photo source

This is a fantastic resource for those of us fascinated by the Church calendar, but don’t really know much about it (that would be me). Let Us Keep the Feast is a basic explanation of the celebrations, feasts, and holidays in the Church calendar, and why they matter.

This volume is full of ideas for readings, recipes, activities, and ideas for the four weeks of Advent and for Christmas Day. Each chapter is divided by calendar, traditions, in the kitchen, beyond the home, and resources. It encourages you to keep things simple—no pressure at all do everything.

The digital version is under a dollar—I highly recommend it as an excellent set of training wheels to help you stay balanced during the potentially-busy holiday season.

2. Personal daily reading

The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp
Photo source

As a parent, I find it way too easy to focus on my kids’ holiday season and put my own off to the side. That’s why I was so thrilled that my friend Ann released her new book, The Greatest Gift. As I mentioned in my book review, “[This is] a Jesse Tree ritual—for me. …Ann’s powerful poetry of words are strung together so that I can be reminded on those dark, cold hours of Christmas that I have reason to rejoice just as much as my children.”

This is a daily holiday devotional for adults. Much needed for me. This book will give me an excuse to slow down and reflect, renew, and rejoice in the season.

Plus, free printable ornaments!

3. A reading and activity for the little guys

Our two younger kids, both boys, are almost six and three-and-a-half. You might wager a guess that they don’t sit still for long, nor do they really soak in some of the deeper, more complexly-written Jesse Tree devotions out there. You’d be right.

truth in the tinsel, 20% off!

I love my friend Amanda White’s ebook, Truth in the Tinsel. It is exactly the right age for them, and it includes things like listening for a special word in each reading (which are short! hallelujah!), conversation starters, and craft ideas. The whole thing shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.

Truth in the Tinsel printable ornamentsHere’s what I really love—printable ornaments the boys can just color and voila!, new ornaments for the Jesse Tree. Honestly, I love the idea of art projects, but I’m just not one of those parents in to kiddie crafts, so this is a godsend for me. Plus, the boys love ShrinkyDinks, so we’re gonna shrink the heck out of these ornaments on printable ShrinkyDink paper and see what happens.

Amanda’s also got a code for you guys—download the ebook and use ARTOFSIMPLE20 to get 20% off by December 24, 2013!

4. Reading for my slightly older one

Our oldest is almost nine, and she’s getting to the age where it’s possible (and enjoyable!) to share deeper conversations.

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean is just about the right reading level for her, so she’ll go through this book independently. It’s a modern-day tale about “a cantankerous carpenter is distracted from his work of carving a Jesse tree in the local church by a talkative youth who isn’t bothered by the man’s gruff nature.” Divided into readings leading up to Christmas, it’s a fun twist on the traditional Jesse Tree.

5. A ridiculously easy Advent calendar

A ridiculously easy advent calendar

We also do an Advent calendar, each day revealing a fun activity throughout the season. Here’s why it’s so easy: because it’s full of stuff we’d do anyway. But by officially writing it on the calendar, somehow it seems more special. Seriously, we’re talking things like, watch ‘Elf,’ drink hot cocoa and look at Christmas lights, and make paper snowflakes.

Inside the advent calendar

It really is a win-win: we make sure we do the things we really want to do during the holidays, the kids enjoy the “surprise” of it all, and it allows us to appreciate the simpler side of the season. Head here to see how we made our calendar.

White sparkly things with the Advent calendar

All this might sound complicated, but it’s really not. A daily reading for me, a daily reading for the older kid (which she does solo), a daily reading for the youngest two, and a fun activity from the Advent calendar. Doing these things as a ritual center our minds on where we really want them during Advent.

Next week I’ll share thoughts on how we keep the “I want that!” monster at bay during the season, and why we now also celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6.

Your turn—what are your favorite ways to savor Advent?


Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I’m definitely going to check out Let Us Keep the Feast. I’m looking for ways to keep the focus on the real reason for the season while still enjoying the fun family traditions. Thanks!

  2. Beth Gillespie says:

    I just looked on the Truth in the Tinsel link yesterday, and used the code to buy the pack! I am so thankful for the ready made decorations too!

    Thanks for reminding us about The Greatest Gift – I tend to think more about the kids at this time of year, but a Christmas devotion for me is so obvious now you mention it!

    This year I have prepared some activity bags and envelopes, not a full advent, but each weekend day, and a few weekdays. The envelopes contain really simple things like drive to Christmas lights, or decorate the tree. And then the bags have an activity in, like Make a Gingerbread House – I have already prepared the gingerbread mix, found the cookie cutters, and printed the recipe so we can just enjoy the activity with minimal prep.

    We have a 6 year old, 4 year old and 2 year old – planning ahead is so essential this time of year!

  3. We usually do a devotion surrounding lighting Advent candles each Sunday and then on Christmas Eve and Day. This year I plan on doing Truth in the Tinsel (I purchased it as part of a pack earlier this year) as well. We have an Advent calendar that someone sent us that we will do as well.

    I can’t wait to read about what you’re doing to keep the material monster at bay. We’re reading through the Little House series and the comments my kids make over getting just candy or one thing for Christmas are crazy. We seriously don’t do a lot of presents anyway and we live in a country that doesn’t observe Christmas so we’re not bombarded with the material side of things. Maybe it’s just kids? I’m hoping changing up our Advent will help keep the focus on the baby in the manger and not in the box under the tree.

  4. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an Advent resource list that is not 1) overwhelming or 2) the same recycled ideas. I am so grateful for the reading, links, and Advent calendar you’ve shared. This is a helpful follow-up to the post on doable routines and rituals. Thank you.

  5. We do the same thing for our Advent Calendar…things like “take a bowl of warm milk to the cats” are normally mundane, but special when written down this way. Amazon is delivering my copy of The Greatest Gift today….can hardly wait!

  6. Growing up, we would always come together as a family during the evenings of Advent, light a candle, read a story, and sing a song. I loved that tradition and wanted it for me family, too. We are reading Charlie & Noel – An Advent Calendar Story this year.
    Happy Advent!

  7. Thank you for the tips! I especially like the idea of an advent ritual for me. I look forward to your gift idea lists each year, but this is even better. 🙂

  8. Thank you for this! Tomorrow at my church mums group we’re discussing ways of keeping the preparation for Christmas simple as well as ways to stay focused on the true meaning, which also create family togetherness. This will be a great resource.

  9. This year, I’m wrapping up 25 Christmas books (some spiritual, some silly) and we’ll read one per night. I save one that’s the best retelling of the Christmas story for Christmas Eve. I also have some lovely Jesse tree ornaments I got on etsy, and we’ll do those with some simple bible readings and coloring pages.

    • I keep our Christmas books – some from my own childhood – just for Advent. I love your idea to wrap them and open one each night!

  10. Melissa Macalik says:

    I love this. Thank you.

  11. Advent is such a wonderful way to slow down the season and create a meaningful Christmas. I have another book to share “Advent A to Z Prayerful and Playful Preparations for Families.” I would also recommend visiting the Advent Conspiracy website. Have a blessed Advent.

  12. I’m so excited to be able to do an Advent study at church this year. We also do an Advent calendar at home.

  13. We do an advent calendar at home as well that includes the regular things we want to do during the holidays like make a gingerbread house and open our Christmas PJs. However, we added a new one last year where we listen to an episode each night of the old radio show The Cinnamon Bear, which first aired in 1937. Its a fun new tradition!

  14. Let Us Keep the Feast sounds like a fabulous resource, I know very little about the church feasts but would like to know more in a simple, applicable way. Thanks for this and the other recommendations!
    I’m curious how young the Truth in the Tinsel is applicable for, I have a 4 and 2 year old. Anyone use them that young or should I wait another year?

  15. Thank you SO much for these links and ideas, so awesome to read and find new ones.

    I just discovered Ann last week thru her first book, WOW that was so beautiful and powerful for me. Then I found her blog and love it all. Went out and bought her book and can’t wait to have a little “me” time every morning and hanging my ornaments on my soon to be made Jesse tree. So excited about this part.

    Will check out the others here too, thanks for sharing.

    Oh and I like your advent for the kids too, we try to keep it easy and fun here too.

  16. This sounds like ours! Creating our “advent activities” calendar really helped reduce the crazy of our holiday season a few years ago. I love that we can incorporate our holiday to do list as part of the countdown. My Type A personality likes knowing that there’s a plant to getting everything done and the kids love both the predictablity (turning over the card each day) and the surprise (what’s our activity going to be?). Our list isn’t anything fancy, just the stuff we want to accomplish:
    Decorate the Tree
    Put stamps on Christmas Cards
    Wrap presents
    even, Drive to Nana’s House” gets a day on the calendar!

    And, those days that nothing’s really going to happen, we just write, “Sing Christmas songs” or “read a christmas book.” Easy.

  17. Love the advent calendar! Great idea =)

  18. I love your ideas and thanks so much for sharing. We do a lot of the same that you are doing.

    We do 25 Advent Surprises that are like yours…. simple and things we already do with a few extra things thrown in.

    We are reading Ann’s The Greatest Gift and doing our Jesse Tree…..


  19. I love to read the book of Luke for my own personal advent. 24 Chapters! How perfect…I also have a book I put together with a scripture, song and story for my children, too…I featured it last year on my blog with a downloadable link. It has become quite popular.

  20. My husband is a worship leader and we are planning our own family advent worship time throughout the month of December with a printout of our Bible readings, prayers, Jesse tree ornament, and the meaning of the four candles. I’m trying to provide a worship resource for families that want to do their own family worship time. (Will be available on my blog, starting this weekend!) Our family has done the Jesse tree in the past and we love it. I’m trying to come up with new ideas to keep our focus on the birth of the Messiah and help other families worship together.

  21. Kristin Kimble says:

    Loved reading this! Being German, we also celebrate St Nicholas so look forward very much to reading your next installment about 6th December! Happy Advent time.

  22. An advent calendar is one of my favorite memories from Christmas as a child. I love the idea of writing your own messages / activities for each date.

  23. I really loved this blog. Our girls are 19 & 16 now and Bethan, our eldest, is away in her first term at college now, but in our new home surrounded still by packing cases we were able to find all the things we have done for Advent over the years like our wreath and suddenly we all felt that we were at home again. This is such a special season & I hope that many will find their way to your blog to find inspiration for their own keeping of the season.

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