“Christmas always sneaks up on me. I’d love to just marinate in the season instead of being microwaved through it!”
So declared my oldest daughter, Katie, recently. She’s mom to five active, fun children between eleven and two. Microwave indeed!
Katie also knows the reason for the season. But like many of us, she struggles to hang on to it.
There’s an Advent for that! This is the precise purpose of Advent: to marinate us in the reason for the season. Advent is a centuries old rhythm created to help us anticipate the celebration of the first coming of Jesus while simultaneously anticipating Jesus’ second coming.
Spice up the days:
This year Advent begins Sunday, November 29 and culminates December 24.
Think of the ingredients below as a recipe. Add the traditions to your Christmas calendar that appeal to you to spice up your Christmas anticipation and make Christmas more meaningful.
Add in a daily Advent calendar that highlights the story of Jesus:
For families with young children:
- “The Story of Christmas” by Carolyn Croll and “The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent” by Ann Voskamp are creative and fun and have been helpful for many families to enrich the season.
- And this blog also has some great suggestions.
- Read a verse a day as in this creative biblical calendar.
- Or this calendar that takes you through Christmas hymn phrases.
- Make your own calendar.
Daily readings for adults:
Add in daily pinches of wisdom from devotional books.
- “Watch for the Light” is a deep and rich collection of offerings from the likes of Sylvia Plath, Henri Nouwen, Madeleine L’Engle, Annie Dillard, and C. S. Lewis.
- “Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional” by Paul David Tripp dives into the wonder of Christmas.
- “The One True Story: Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus” by Tim Chester ties the Old Testament to the New through the lens of the coming Messiah.
Activities and readings for all:
- Read through the various biblical nativity stories culminating with the birth story before you open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Read them in various translations including “The Jesus Story Book Bible.”
- Wrap Jesus a present and open it first.
- Sing your favorite Christmas carols at dinner time. Or read about the writing and meaning of some famous Christmas carols.
- As you participate in your family traditions of decorating, cooking, and giving gifts, tell the stories of how some of these traditions came to be.
- Martin Luther first lighted a pine tree in the 1500s.
- Outdoor Christmas lights were invented by Denver electrician D.D. Sturgeon to cheer up his ill son.
- What inspired one of the most famous Christmas songs ever, “Silent Night.”
- Build a nativity scene and talk about why St Francis first used one.
- Assemble an advent wreath and read a passage, say a prayer, and light a candle each Sunday of Advent culminating with the Christ candle. Here are some ideas about Advent, Advent wreaths, colors, and candles.
- Join us at my church St James Presbyterian for our Advent series “Songs of Christmas,” focusing on the idea that God’s people responded to the news of a coming or arriving Messiah through song and poetry. First Sunday: Psalm 30, Second Sunday Luke 3:1-6, Third Sunday Luke 2:67-80, Fourth Sunday Luke 1:46-55, Christmas Eve Luke 2:8-20, and the Sunday after Christmas Luke 2:25-35. What song would you sing in response to Christ’s coming?
Add in your own creative spices:
- Watch your favorite Christmas movies and discuss how they do or do not mirror truth about God and/or the original Christmas story. For example, Santa is similar to Jesus in that he is all knowing and generous but is not like Jesus because he keeps records of wrongs. Jesus forgives wrongs.
- Take a picture a day that represents or symbolizes Christmas words. For example light, giving, Jesus, peace, love, hope (the themes of the Advent candles), nativity, manger, family.
Things that will sour your Christmas tradition recipe:
- Commercialism. Ration your television viewing to limit how commercials taint the meaning of the season.
- Shopping. Keep shopping and discussion of gift lists in their proper proportion.
- Too much of anything: Don’t let the pressure of this being a special season make you add too much to your calendar. Even from this list.
Finally, add a half cup full of thankfulness to the season. In these days of what we might call Covid Christmas it is easy to focus on what’s not in the cupboard, school plays, beloved family gatherings, Christmas parties, etc.
But as you cook up Advent recipes and traditions by lighting candles, counting the days, reading stories (and telling your own), and inventing new Christmas recipes, may God pour into those once empty spaces his hope, peace, love, ands joy in the person of Jesus Christ.