Advent lasts four weeks and begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was November 27th this year. It also the beginning of the liturgical year and signals the time to start preparing for Christmas. So let's get ready with these traditional and modern symbols of Advent:
Advent Calendar: This fun calendar has a treat or toy hidden behind each door, and helps children ease into Christmas - it can be hard for kids to wait until the big day! Modern versions are usually made of decorated cardboard with chocolates inside, while traditional Advent calendars were made of red cloth with small pockets for each day of Advent, each containing a surprise.
Manger Scene: The beginning of Advent is also when people start to put up their Christmas decorations. While this can range from Santas to snowmen, many Christians choose to go with a more traditional theme and set up a decorative manger. This usually contains statues of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger full of hay, and can also include barn animals and the 3 Wise Men.
Advent Candles: The candles lit during Advent symbolize hope and anticipation of Jesus' arrival. You can light 4 candles, one on each Sunday of Advent, or can light 24 candles, one each day.
Christmas Tree: This is also the perfect time to put up the Christmas tree! The tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas is actually a relic of pagan rituals but is now known as a symbol of Christianity as well. Evergreen trees, which as the name implies stay green year-round, are a symbol of life. Modern traditions allow pretty much any decorations, and are a great way to get the kids involved in fun craft projects focused on the holiday.
Shopping: Wonder why we brave the crowds on Black Friday and form calluses on our finger on Cyber Monday? Aside from trying to get great deals, it's because it's the tradition to give gifts at Christmas dating all the way back to when then Three Wise Men offered gifts to baby Jesus. Reflecting on that might help make the crowds more bearable. And remember, gifts can come in many forms. You don't necessarily have to buy something to show someone you appreciate them! You can offer to do a favor for them (babysitting, cook them a nice dinner) or can make some (knit a warm winter hat, frame a special photo), depending on your talents and skills. It may be cliche but it truly is "the thought that counts".
Charity: This is also a great time to think about those less fortunate than you. You can donate gently used items to charity, particularly warm clothing for those braving the cold winter months and toys for those children who won't otherwise receive any presents. In fact, this could be a great time to clean up the kids' toy room and have them part with toys they never play with - it's a great way to show them that you don't need to have a ton of material things to be happy and that helping other people can bring joy! You can also ask all your guests to bring a small, wrapped toy and then donate all the gifts to a local children's charity. You can give a gift to a charity in someone's name, but remember that not everyone will have the same preference of charity as you and they might not really see it as a thoughtful gift. Instead, perhaps considering simply donating to the charity you wish and getting a more personalized gift for your friends.
Christmas is just a few short weeks away. Get in the spirit by sending one of our Advent ecards! We hope you have a great holiday season and enjoy a wonderful time with friends and family!
A Blessed Advent Season