My mother, Hilde, was born and raised in Germany. While her Lutheran family wasn’t very religious, they celebrated Advent every year. As a result, my mom made Advent very special for our family and it’s provided some of my most precious memories. Traditions should be an important part of a child’s life, but for so many reasons, they’re fading quickly from the American family. Advent can be celebrated at home and in church and it’s a wonderful time to remind children (and ourselves) about the Birth of our Savior.
Advent is a the anglicized version of the Latin word adventus which means “coming”. In a nutshell, it’s to prepare for and reflect on the coming of Christmas. It begins on the closest Sunday to November 30th and continues over the next three Sundays:
This year the first Sunday of Advent is Nov. 30th, the Second Sunday of Advent is Dec. 7th, the Third Sunday of Advent is Dec. 14th and the Fourth Sunday of Advent is Dec. 21st.
Sometimes the Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve which makes it particularly exciting for kids and more reverential for adults.
Advent is now a tradition in several churches but still considered somewhat modern. It wasn’t until the fourth century A.D. that Roman Emperor Constantine assigned Dec. 25 as the official birthday of Christ and Advent became routine.
You may have seen Advent calendars in stores, for example, the candy calendar, very popular in Germany and now the U.S.. Little windows are dated from the first of December to the 24th, each with a small piece of chocolate behind it. This was terribly exciting for me as a child because I only had that delicious German chocolate a few times a year!
There’s also the increasingly popular Jesse Tree (based on Isaiah 11:10); anything from a wall calendar, a bunch of tree branches in a vase to a full size symbol of a tree. The family adds specific ornaments that depict the Old Testament from Creation to the Birth of Christ. Several websites offer free patterns for the ornaments along with short Bible stories to teach children the meaning of each one.
In our family we used an Advent Wreath. They typically hold five candles; four around the wreath, one for each Sunday and one in the center to represent Christ. Many churches use three purple candles and one rose on the wreath with white in the center. Most non-Catholic related churches have switched to blue candles with one rose and a white Christ Candle. My mother used red candles and we didn’t use a Christ Candle. If the colors are important to you or something you’d like to explore further, check out the extensive Advent article at Christian Research Institute.
In the hours before family arrived, my mom would make some kind of treat for everyone to have after Advent. There was always hot chocolate, Christmas cookies and Andes mints. On one of the Sundays, always my personal favorite, one of my sisters would bring her famous fudge. Once everyone arrived, one child would be chosen to light the first candle (this became difficult as more and more children were born). We would start by singing “Silent Night” followed by several Christmas songs. We inevitably end up in stitches over our yearly howling attempts at a family version of “O Holy Night!”
Our parents and one of my three sisters have passed and others rest live far away. I try to keep the tradition going with my own family but I’m far from the parent my mother was and it’s gone along the wayside many, many times. We are more religious and while Advent is not a part of our church services, we enjoy it at home. We prefer to open and close with prayer and this year we’re going to add a short lesson for the kids. I hope you’ll consider sharing Advent with your family this year. We can always use more time with God.
Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day. ~Psalm 25:5