It's November and Christmas has hit the stores and malls everywhere! Well, you wouldn't know it from all of the grumbling going on about early decorations, pre-Christmas sales, and how are we going to pay for all of these gifts? I am one of those people who just loves Christmas; I start playing the Christmas tunes and putting up my decorations in mid-November...usually to more groans and eye rolls from friends and family.
But I decided that this year, as I redo my Advent calendar here on TeachingMom, that the retailers have it RIGHT. Whoa! What did that crazy homeschooler say? Well, I don't mean that most businesses have their priorities straight about the true reason for celebration at Christmas or the right attitude towards their fellow man (and woman!) and peace on earth at half off. However, if there is one thing that we can learn from the retailers--granted, it's one thing--it is their attitude of expectation and preparation. And that is what the Advent season is all about! Preparing our hearts with joyful anticipation for the coming of our King.
What is Advent?
Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season and the Church year for most Western churches. The word "Advent" means "arrival" or "coming" in Latin and represents the approach of Christ's birth (and fulfillment of the prophecies about that event) and the awaiting of Christ's second coming. It is composed of the four Sundays before Christmas day, starting on the Sunday closest to November 30th, which is the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, and ending on Christmas. Because Christmas is on a different day from year to year, Advent may last anywhere from 22 to 28 days.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was the preparation for the "Epiphany" rather than Christmas. (Epiphany is celebrated in early January and focuses on various events in Jesus' life such as the visits of the magi, His baptism and miracles.) It was also a time for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church, while members of the church examined their hearts and focused on penance. Religious leaders exhorted the people to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting. Some say that early documents show that those leaders treated Advent as a second Lent.
Sometime in 6th century Rome, the focus of Advent shifted to the second coming of Christ. In the 9th century, Pope St. Nicholas reduced the duration of Advent from six weeks to the four weeks we currently observe. And finally, sometime in the middle ages--approximately the 1500's--an additional focus on the anticipation before Christ's birth was added to that of His second coming. For a more in-depth perspective, visit The History of Advent.
Celebrating the Season
For Christians, Advent is a time of reflection about the amazing gift that God gave to us in the person of His Son who came to live among us on earth. It is also an opportunity to restore Jesus to His rightful place as the center of our holiday celebrations! Advent is, appropriately, both somber and joyful!
The prevailing themes of the Advent season and the symbolism behind the activities which churches and families share are expectation and hope, preparation and peace, joy and sharing, and most of all, love. These themes are represented in the 5 candles of the Advent wreath. On each Sunday marking a new week in Advent, a candle is lit on the wreath (including candles from previous weeks) until we arrive at the snow-white center candle which stands for Christ! All Advent activities and traditions are grounded in the truth of Scripture...even though the symbolism and stories surrounding them have changed over time. The focus continues to be the great news that the Messiah was and is coming and how we live out our heartfelt longing for both.
The practice of lighting Advent candles began in Germany by non-Christians. They lit candles surrounded by evergreen branches in their windows on cold winter nights to signify their hope for the coming warmth and light of spring! Later, German Lutherans kept the practice alive and gradually the symbolism of the Advent wreath was added: evergreens represent everlasting life (because they do not die during winter) and Christian growth; the wreath is a symbol of God's unending love and of victory; candles represent Christ, the light of the world, and their purple or blue color signify the royalty of Jesus our King! Another tradition saying is that the four candles signify the 4000 years of waiting from Adam and Eve until, at long last, Jesus' birth.
Advent Calendars and Wreaths
Before you can begin your Advent activities, you should try to find an Advent Calendar and/or Advent Wreath to use! These are readily available at most Christian book stores and Christianbook.com (CBD) has some as well:
However, one of the most fun activities this season can be making your own Advent Calendar or Wreath! You can create a wreath that will last a long time and become a treasured tradition in your home or try something new every year!
An Advent Calendar can be as simple or as ornate as you'd like. Here are some ideas:
1. You can use an actual calendar like the large desk calendars with space to write in. Every night, write in a new verse reference for you and your family to look up and read together the next day. Afterwards, put a Christmas sticker on the square to count down the days.
2. Cut out a Christmas tree shape from cardboard or posterboard. Each day, add a new ornament (either cut them out yourself or buy some die-cut shapes from a craft store) with a verse.
3. An alternative to a calendar is to make an Advent paper chain. Add a new link to the chain ever day with either the Bible verse you read together, the people you prayed for that day or a list of what you were thankful for that day. Or, you can create the chain in advance and remove the links with verses (or names of people to pray for) listed on them.
4. Have an old or extra corkboard that you're not using? Transform it into an Advent calendar and post new messages and/or verses every day. You can wrap the board with wrapping paper to make it look like a present and add bow, ornament or candy shapes every day. You can hang pieces of candy each day with push pins as well.
5. A fairly easy traditional Advent calendar can be made with 2 pieces of cardboard or posterboard. Draw your design on one piece of cardboard. You can make little houses and churches along a winding road or a Christmas tree with ornaments or just one house with many little windows or doors. Use an exacto knife to cut the doors/windows open, leaving one side as a hinge. Then, lay the 2nd piece of cardboard underneath and line it up. Open the windows/doors and trace the shapes onto the cardboard below. Write your verses or other messages in the traced shapes and then carefully glue the cardboard under the cover piece of cardboard. Close the doors with little bits of tape to keep peeking eyes from looking ahead! (Fun foam or felt can be used, too.)
6. Make an Advent tree. Use a small (3-foot or so) artificial tree and each day hang a new ornament. These can be tiny gift boxes , mini stockings or mini mittens holding verses and/or candy.
7. Nativity figures. Instead of a calendar, you can allow your children to set out 1 nativity figure/animal each day until Christmas.
8. Use old Christmas cards to create a tree shape on your wall or door. Glue verses or other messages written on colored paper inside, perhaps with a note to pray for the person who sent you the card.
9. Sew a calendar with felt or any other fabric. Make small pockets for each day of Advent where you can put verses or candy.
10. Use matchboxes, small jewelry gift boxes, toilet paper tubes cut in half or small paper cups glued to a piece of cardboard to create a calendar with places to store your verses, candies or other items to be opened each day!
11. If you can find an item with the right number of pockets or drawers, you can simply decorate it and label for use as a calendar! Some options are shoe organizers, mini drawer units (for a desk or to hold small craft items), or a screw/nail/tool organizer with little drawers. Dress it up with wrapping paper and ribbon.
Here is a list of small gifts you can give as you countdown to Advent:
1. Quarter--A quarter! That equals 25 cents. But 25 also stands for the number of days till Christmas, when God gave us His best present. Jesus told about one woman's gift and the way she gave it. Read: Mark 12:41-44
2. Grape Gum or Candy--Grapes make jelly and juice, raisins and wine. But Jesus didn't need grapes to perform His first miracle. Read: John 2:1-10
3. Smiley Face--Here's a smile! A smile usually expresses happiness. Jesus gave us many instructions to keep us happy. Read: Matthew 5:1-12.
4. Swedish Fish candy--Well, if you were surprised to find these fish, wait till you read the story today! Others were surprised to find fish, too. Read: Luke 5:4-7.
5. Birthday Candle--As you know, we are getting ready to celebrate Jesus' birthday. However, Jesus talked about something else that is related to this candle. Light! Read: Matthew 5:14-16.
6. Small Bell--You could make some noise with this. But it would not have bothered a certain man--until he met Jesus. Read: Mark 7:31-37.
7. Goldfish Crackers--These would not go very far if you were really hungry! But Jesus could make much out of little. Surely He knew how to multiply! Read: Matthew 14:13-21.
8. Cotton Balls--These cotton balls would be helpful in a thunder storm, wouldn't they? We could use them for ear plugs to muffle the loud noises that thunder makes. But we know someone who doesn't need cotton. Jesus can control the weather. Read: Matthew 8:23-27.
9. Piece of Map--People needing to use the other parts of this map are in trouble! Don't you get lost today! Read: John 14:1-6.
10. Soap--Do you like to wash? Behind your ears? Washing turned out to be a happy time for a man who met Jesus. Read: John 9:1-7.
11. Heart Candy or Sticker--Hearts. Wordlessly, they speak of love, don't they? Jesus spoke some commands about love. Read: Matthew 25:17-41.
12. Small Cross--We use the cross as a symbol, representing Jesus. Do you know why? Read: Phillipians 2:1-11.
13. Packet of Salt--Ordinary salt. Yes, Jesus related salt to us and our behavior. He also gave us some advice. Read: Matthew 5:14 and Colossians 4:6. (Notice that He doesn't recommend pepper!).
14. Sand--Don't try to eat this! It's sand. It reminds us that Jesus knows something about architecture, about buildings--and building lives. See His instructions: Matthew 7:24-29.
15. Silk Flowers--Flowers are pretty, aren't they? Jesus used flowers to teach us a reassuring lesson. Read: Matthew 6:28-34.
16. Raisins--Raisins! Many children are given raisins instead of candy for a snack. That's because they are a health-promoting and delicious fruit. Jesus told us how we can produce good fruit. Read: John 15:1-5.
17. Seeds--Jesus told a story about seeds that man planted. Then He explained it, revealing its deep meaning. Read: Matthew 13:3-8 and Matthew 13:18-23.
18. Christmas Carol--Christmas is just about a week away. And here is an appropriate song. Sing it loudly! Read: Psalms 100.
19. Rock--A hard stone! Can you change this stone into a piece of bread? Do you think Jesus could? Jesus was asked to do just that. Do know how He handled it? Read: Matthew 4:1-4.
20. Crumpled Foil--Try to smooth out this piece of aluminum foil and use it as a mirror. It's hard to see your reflection plainly, isn't it? Many circumstances are hard to understand, but someday everything will be clear. Read: 1 Corinthians 13:12.
21. Mustard Seed (or packet of mustard)--The mustard seed is the smallest there is! When it sprouts, it grows into one of the largest plants! See what Jesus said. Read: Matthew 17:20.
22. Dove--We've learned that the cross represents Christ, but do you know what the dove stands for? Read: Matthew 3:13-17.
23. Scrap of Wool Material--The threads that compose this fabric came from the wool of a sheep. Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. Do you know who His sheep are? Read: John 10:7-18.
24. Marble--A marble! Do you know what is sometimes called the "Big Blue Marble"? The world. God made the world for us. What does God continue doing to the world? And who is the world? Read: John 3:16.
25. Picture of Baby--Isn't this baby cute? When he was born, he made a whole family happy. Jesus was born a baby, too. He came to make the whole world happy. Read: Luke 2:1-20. Enjoy your celebration today. Continue to learn about Jesus--and love Him forever!
*This comes from www.daniellesplace.com (among other places on the web)
Advent wreaths contain 4-5 candles, one purple or pink candle for each week of Advent and a last white or rose candle to represent Christ! Here are some ideas if you'd like to make your own:
1. Use an aluminum foil pie tin and cut "X" shapes to push your candles down into. Decorate with greenery.
2. Use a styrofoam wreath shape. Press your candles in (use a small brass candle holder if you can) and decorate with artificial holly or other greenery.
3. Fill a container such as a bundt cake pan or a pretty planting container with dry cranberries or small pretty stones (or sand, pebbles, etc if you will cover with greenery) and push your candles down in.
4. Drill holes in a log which has been sanded on the bottom side to be sure it is steady and place candles in the holes. Decorate with greenery.
5. If your children are too young to take part in candle lighting, they can make a wreath with handprints made on green paper. Form a circle with the handprints and put a bow on. You can hang it or you can make pretend candles from toilet paper tubes to use on it!
6. You can make your own fresh Advent Wreath buy visiting this site: Making an Advent Wreath.
7. Here is a neat idea for making a wreath with daily activities and candy canes: Advent Wreath.