I constantly strive to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. In an effort to pare down on the holiday craziness, we vowed to give experiences instead of stuff whenever possible and give only a couple high-quality gifts instead of lots of cheap ones that break the next day. We wanted to lessen the focus on gifts, and instead place it on the meaning of Christmas and our time together as a family.
Advent is the four week period prior to Christmas when Christians reflect on the meaning behind this holiday. Though you wouldn’t know it from the stores, the Christmas season actually STARTS on Christmas, not ends.
In fact, Christmas Day is the end of Advent and the beginning of the actual Christmas season. It also marks the start of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” which ends on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
For us, Advent is a key time of reflection, preparation, and family time. The significance of this season is often marked by Advent wreaths and calendars that help us focus on the real meaning of the Christmas feast (more on these below) and a general waiting, waiting, waiting in anticipation for the excitement of Christmas.
If you’d like to learn more about Advent or begin celebrating it in your home, here are some ideas from our own family traditions to get you started!
A typical Advent wreath involves an evergreen wreath with four candles (three purple, one rose). Each Sunday of Advent, an additional candle is lit. The purple candles are reminders of the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, to represent a time of rejoicing, because this marks the midpoint of Advent.
I decided early on to make our Advent wreath from scratch (anyone surprised?), not only to save money but also because I’m not a fan of most candles and wanted to use beeswax candles instead. I also didn’t love the idea of a wreath that would sit in the attic the rest of the year and not have a purpose so I decided to make a non-toxic, reusable Advent wreath. (Side note, early in our marriage, my husband had an Advent wreath with candles that he had owned for years, and when we stored it in the attic, all the candles melted one summer and caused a HUGE mess!)
Turns out, there are not really any search results that help with that so I looked around at things I already had in the house. I love the final product and you might already have all of the supplies laying around your house like I did!
I’m all about keeping things simple and this wreath is no exception. This Advent wreath takes only a couple minutes to make and after Advent can be disassembled and used for other purposes until the season rolls around again.
Advent calendars are a fun way to count down the days until Christmas. There are countless variations and styles (including some themed!). Often, there is a little treat that corresponds with each day. There are store bought options too, like these:
but we prefer a handmade yearly calendar. Our handmade advent calendar encourages a spirit of giving and kindness.
We have a hanging cloth wall calendar with a small envelope pinned to it for each day of Advent. Inside each envelope is a card with a small good deed or act of kindness that we can all do that day. This helps all of us keep the focus on giving rather than receiving. I used this DIY tutorial as a template and printed cards with acts of kindness to go in each mini envelope.
In our family, the nativity scene (also called a creche) is a special reminder of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We have several that we put out at the beginning of Advent each year including:
Some people do Elf on the Shelf, and we do the Christmas Angel! This adorable stuffed angel acts a prop to get kids (and parents!) thinking about what acts of kindness to do for others. There’s a whole program available with 25 days of activities to go along with the angel here.
These are fantastic children’s read-aloud books for Advent that the whole family will enjoy!
Family traditions happen in funny ways. This Advent post wouldn’t tell the whole story of our Advent traditions unless it included: The Krampus!
Never heard of it?
Me neither, until I heard my husband’s stories from college. He studied in Austria and picked up on this well-known German Advent tradition.
The Krampus is a rather frightening half-man, half-goat figure well known throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. The story goes that Krampus travels with Saint Nicholas, leaving coal for naughty children or scaring them into behaving. The Eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day is even called Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, in Austria and some other parts of Europe.
While the Krampus is no Christmas angel, it’s a story that stuck with my husband and the kids have fun hearing it each Advent to heighten the suspense before we celebrate St. Nicholas’s Feast Day on December 6th. Hear a fun, light-hearted version of the Krampus story here.
Your turn! I’d love to hear if your family does anything during Advent and what traditions you have … share below!