I didn’t celebrate Advent as a child. In fact, I don’t think I was aware of its existence until college.
My family and I did celebrate Christmas, and I knew it centered on Jesus’ birth. We usually participated in a Christmas musical at church.
At home we had lights on our house, a Christmas tree in our living room, and (best of all) presents under the tree.
I remember a strong sense of excitement that grew until Christmas Day …and then the magic and hope deflated as soon as the gifts were unwrapped.
This slightly depressing cycle repeated each year: mounting anticipation followed by an abrupt collapse and strange emptiness. I still loved Christmas, but I wondered if something was missing.
When I had my own children, I searched for a Christmas tradition we could enjoy each year as a family.
I wanted it to last most of December and dig deeply into the meaning behind the holiday.
Ideally, our tradition would hone our focus and help us remember not only the fact that Jesus came but also the reason that His arrival mattered.
The season of Advent—often celebrated during the 24 days leading up to Christmas—intrigued me.
What Is Advent?
Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” It is a season of expectation and hope. Believers across the world spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for that day of beauty and light.
The first recorded mention of Advent occurred at a meeting of church leaders in Spain in the 300’s A.D. The Council of Saragossa encouraged people to attend church daily between December 17-29.
Advent eventually developed into a month-long season in December.
Traditions vary by country, but people celebrate Advent all over the world. Each country or faith contributes something unique.
- In Eastern Orthodox churches, believers participate in a Nativity Fast that begins November 15 and ends December 24. During the fast, they abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil.
- In Germany, Christian set four candles in an evergreen Advent wreath. Each Sunday preceding Christmas, they light another candle while singing Christmas songs.
- In China, families put up a “tree of light” and decorate it with lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains. Some give apples on Christmas Eve because the Chinese word for apple sounds similar to the word for peace.
- In the Philippines, people attend nine different early morning masses with the final mass occurring on Christmas Day. They decorate a bamboo pole with a lighted “lantern” that represents the star followed by the wise men.
- In Costa Rica, families decorate their houses with tropical flowers and set up a nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, everyone dresses up and goes to Midnight Mass.
Celebrating Advent means joining Christians across the world—and through the centuries—to celebrate the coming of Jesus.
People and this world are full of darkness, but the Light has come—and He is making all things new.
How Do You Celebrate Advent in Kids’ Ministry?
One common way to incorporate Advent on Sundays is the lighting of candles set in an evergreen wreath. Starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, light a new candle each Sunday.
Once again, traditions vary, but the candles represent different ideas or themes central to the season.
What Do the Candles Mean?
- The first candle, called the “Prophet’s Candle,” symbolizes hope. The Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
- The second candle, called “Bethlehem’s Candle,” represents faith. Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, forging a connection between Kind David and his coming descendent whose kingdom and throne would be established forever.
- The third candle, called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” symbolizes joy. To the shepherds’ great joy, angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too.
- The fourth candle, called the “Angel’s Candle,” represents peace. The angels proclaimed that Jesus came to bring peace on earth—He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
- The (optional) fifth candle, called “Christ’s Candle,” represents purity and light. It is placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Day, commemorating the arrival of the Light of the World.
Gathering on Christmas Eve
Another well-known tradition we practice at our church is a Christmas Eve service.
The church gathers to sing songs that focus our hearts on Jesus and the hope He brings. At some point in the service, all of the children are invited to the front to hear the Christmas story.
Connecting with Families During the Week
There are creative ways you can encourage families in your church to celebrate Advent.
One church in Massachusetts created a daily video of someone at their church reading a story from The Advent Storybook: 25 Bible Stories Showing Why Jesus Came.
They posted the 25 videos on their website and Facebook page, inviting families to pause for a few minutes each day to remember and celebrate.
Choosing an Advent Tradition for Your Church
There are many other ways to celebrate Advent! Choose something that fits your church’s culture and priorities.
The best Advent traditions will help peel away the distractions or misbeliefs that prevent people from seeing the immense glory and weight of Christmas.
The Promised Son of God, clothed in flesh, came to live among us in order to rescue us and make all things new.
If we lose this truth in the midst of the busyness of December, Christmas will come and go without people encountering Immanuel, God with us.
What Advent Resources Do You Recommend to Parents?
When I began searching for Advent resources, I had two small children. I looked on Amazon and found a book that I hoped would be engaging. We tried to read through that book, but I found myself drastically editing the text each day.
I really needed something that was clear and simple; focused on Jesus and grace; easily understood by little ones; and historically accurate. I searched again the next year but still couldn’t find anything that was quite right.
As December approached, I struggled to answer this question: Why did Jesus come? I needed to answer this for myself before I could explain it to my kids.
That year, I decided to write my own Advent book for our family. I wanted to start with Creation and journey through the Old Testament.
As I worked through that ancient text, I realized a central message it conveyed: Jesus, the Promised Son, came to rescue us and make all things good and new again, like they were in the beginning.
The patriarchs, prophets, kings, and other Jewish people all longed for the day when the Messiah would come to make all things right. They guarded this promise and kept hope alive through countless dark centuries.
And then, in the fullness of time, He came.
My Story Behind The Advent Storybook
We read through the stories that first Christmas, and my children loved our time together. It was special to sit down as a family and think through the history behind Jesus’ arrival.
The following year, I felt like God wanted me to publish the stories I had written. Through a series of events only God could orchestrate, The Advent Storybook: 25 Bible Stories Showing Why Jesus Came was published by David C Cook and made available to families across the world.
Many families combine The Advent Storybook with Advent calendars involving chocolate or with other fun activities. At adventstorybook.com, printable ornaments that accompany each story are available for free.
In recent years, many families have shown a growing interest in celebrating seasons like Advent.
I think we’re all longing for meaning and hope in a world often shadowed by tragedy and evil. Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to connect this longing with the truth of our beautiful Rescuer.
Jesus came to restore and redeem what we lost so long ago: Our close friendship with God, with others, and with all of Creation.
There is more to Christmas—and Advent helps us remember the hope we have in Jesus. One day, He will wipe away all our tears and bring us back home to Him.
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