Jumping into Advent is like taking a step back in time. I know it’s usually a busy season for many as we plan for the many Christmas celebrations that usually fill our homes and family get-togethers. This year will be different though. And that’s not a bad thing. All this COVID stuff that catches our attention and then disrupts our usual plans and traditions opens up the door for us to step back – take stock – and reset our lives around God’s Word – yes in Scripture – but ultimately in that little Christ Child who came to be born into our human flesh.
Around the world, there have been many traditions that have helped Christians to celebrate the season – and given the restrictions on groups and gatherings that we have this year – it may be worth paying attention to some of these that we can build into our home life in order to make this season glad with the message of the coming and birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Here’s a few that you might want to consider…
Advent Calendars – you can find them in stores all over town. Look for the ones with the Nativity scene if possible. These can be a fun way to build anticipation throughout the Advent season as we walk our children through this time of preparation. It can be a good time to talk with our children about what preparing for Jesus means too. Simplicity, repentance, listening to Scripture, and joy all provide good talking points as we move along the way.
Reverse Advent Calendars – can be a fun project to get the whole family working together. Rather than opening doors and eating chocolates, the Reverse Advent Calendar is an opportunity to think of others by collecting gifts into a package to give to someone in need. The things you collect can be as varied as the people you are collecting them for. Certainly, organizations such as Siloam and Winnipeg Harvest can be the recipients – but identifying a friend, or a family that you know for you to gift these items to can likewise be a good spiritual discipline – and example for your kids. Doing it anonymously can make it even better. Collect things for one big gift package at the end of the month, or break it up into smaller weekly gifts – either way, it is a good way to practice Christian charity towards those who are in need of support and help.
Building your Christmas Scene – many families already set up a creche or nativity set within their homes. Instead of setting it up all at once, however, try building it progressively over time. Have Mary and Joseph make a journey around the house before they finally reach the manger scene on December 24th. This can be turned into a fun game with younger children where each day they are invited to hunt for a find the Holy Family on their journey to Bethlehem.
Advent Wreath – this is a symbol both of God in eternity (the circular form) as well as the newness of life that Jesus has come to bring (the green sprigs). Across Europe, Advent wreaths were always adorned with five candles – four in a circle with the fifth in the middle. Remembering that Jesus is described as the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12), the four candles were lit successively – one for each Sunday – until all four are set ablaze. Then, finally, on Christmas Even and Christmas Day, the center candle – representing Jesus’ birth in the world – is lit to complete the circle so that the light of God’s glory can shine in our darkness.
St. Barbara’s Branches – celebrated on December 4th, St. Barbara was a Christian martyr from the early fourth century. Locked into a tower by her father because of her faith, she was later beheaded for the same hope in Christ. The tradition arose of cutting ‘Barbara branches’ on December 4th – fresh sprigs cut from various trees (apples, plums, willows, forsythia) – which would then be placed into vases with warm water. The water should be changed every three days – a good trinitarian reminder of our baptism – so that by Christmas Eve/Day, these branches will have sprouted to help celebrate Jesus as that ‘shoot from Jesse’s stem’ (Isaiah 11:1-5) who has come to give new life into our fallen world.
St. Nicholas Day – celebrated on December 6th. St. Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in the city of Myra who was especially known for his charitable giving and anonymous acts of kindness. He is actually the person from whom we get the image of Santa Claus (good ol’ St. Nick or shortened from Saint Nic’laus) from. The tradition of giving presents for Christmas actually arose from the way in which people would celebrate his feast-day. Throughout norther Europe, many families will have their children put out their Sunday shoes on the evening before. These can be put by the front or back door – or even under the tree, or close to the Christmas creche. Before morning, the parents will fill them up with various goodies – sweets, oranges, nuts, even small toys – as a reflection of God’s love and care for them. Traditions suggests that these gifts are only given to those who have been good for the year. Those who misbehave get a potato, onion, or a lump of coal. I usually get the latter in my household – as a reminder for the rest that this is still a possibility.
There are lots of other fun ways that you can mark the season at home. I’m sure that you have some traditions of your own. Do feel free to share them on our Facebook page – you never know, you might inspire someone with a new way of helping others to prepare for our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth!