Thanksgiving is next week, which means if you’re not careful, the holiday crazies will officially commence. That’s why with this post, I intend to remind you (and myself) that with just a bit of forethought and planning, it’s entirely possible to keep the festive season sane.
The primary way our family is keeping it saner this year? By intentionally observing Advent.
Hear me out: I know most of us know about Advent calendars and wreaths. But unless you’ve grown up in a liturgical church—one that follows the traditional Christian calendar—Advent probably isn’t thought of as much more than the padding around Christmas. That’s what it was like for me, anyway, having grown up in a non-denominational church.
I honestly hadn’t thought much of it until recently, at first as a parent wanting to slow down the anticipation of Christmas with a daily calendar. But a few years ago, I became interested in the actual liturgical calendar, and as of this year, we’re now attending an Anglican church.
To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve gone deeper as to what this spiritual renewal and awakening has meant to me over at (in)courage. For here, though, I want to share with you some practicals our family will employ this year to observe Advent.
If you’re a relative liturgical newbie, like me, here are some simple ways to ease into recognizing Advent as a separate holiday from Christmas.
1. Learn the calendar.
Advent is best understood in context of the entire liturgical calendar, and while it’s not necessary to fully grasp the whole thing ahead of time (I certainly don’t), it’s good to think of it as the season before Christmas.
To keep it simple: Advent is the start of the new year of the Christian calendar, and its purpose is to prepare our hearts for Christmastime, which celebrates the birth of Jesus for twelve days starting December 25. So, Advent begins the fourth Sunday from the first day of Christmas, which means for 2015, that’s November 29.
2. Slowly decorate.
If I were a purist (or maybe more seasoned in recognizing the calendar), we would buy our Christmas tree and refrain from hanging ornaments until Christmas Eve, keeping it simple with lights. Maybe one day.
For now, we will buy a tree soon after Thanksgiving, then slowly, slowly add decor to both it and the rest of the house in anticipation of Christmas. No reason to feel like it all has to be done by December 25 (especially if we recognize the twelve full days of Christmas!).
A little greenery here, some candles there, paper snowflakes later in the month…. spreading it out throughout the entire season means enjoying the process instead of rushing to just be done.
3. Play anticipatory music.
We pipe music throughout our house year-round, but we tend to go full-tilt during the holidays. I’m a sucker for Christmas music just as much as the next gal, so again, I won’t be a purist here. But more than in years past, I’m going to try and focus on songs that help my heart anticipate, and not just celebrate.
I created an Advent playlist this year—you’re welcome to it:
I’ll still play Christmas music, but I’ll keep it low key until December 25, when we can thence rock out for twelve days, not yet sick of the songs (I hope).
4. Display an Advent wreath.
We ordered a DIY beeswax candle-making kit for the first time, which we’ll be using in our Advent wreath at home. The plan is simple: we’ll light the week’s candle each night, just before dinner.
Last year I created a pinboard of my favorite simple Advent wreaths and calendars, if you’d like inspiration.
5. Keep an Advent calendar.
This is my kids’ favorite activity during the season, and some years I love it more than others (depending on the fullness of our real-life calendar). Once per day, the kids count down to Christmas by flipping over the day’s number and revealing a simple family activity.
The key, for us, is to not add any activities we wouldn’t be doing anyway. So it’s not adding more things to do, it’s simply being intentional about spreading them out throughout Advent and making them official. I write them on little sticky notes (fancy!) so I can move them around as needed. Because yep, life happens.
6. Read an Advent devotional.
In the evenings, as part of our daily family story time, we read a short, simple devotional. Some years we accompany it with a Jesse Tree, but this year it just feels too much, so we’re skipping that this year.
This resource also includes a list of my favorite devotionals, and which age groups correspond with each. For our family, with kids ages 5 to 10, we’re reading my friend Ann’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It combines well with my own personal Advent devotional, The Greatest Gift, which I read as part of my nightly examen.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share my simple gift guide for the year, how we help curb our kids’ “I want that!”s during the holidays, how to handle the well-meaning onslaught of gifts from extended family, and ways to serve together during the holiday season. Be looking for them!
How do you keep the Advent season special during the culture’s crazy pressure to do ‘all the things’?