Advent is a very special time of the year for me and for my family. I eagerly look forward to Advent and Christmas all year long. In a funny turn of events, the previous owners of our home used to hang up a large, outdoor sign on their house front that read: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!” I love Christmas so much that I often think how appropriate it is that Phil and I moved our family into this house. We, too, strive to keep Jesus as the focus of the season. Thankfully, the Church is generous with traditions to incorporate into our lives in the expectant days prior to Christmas. Over the years, we’ve been able to weave some customs into our family life that enrich the Advent experience that my children, my husband, and I have.
Though it is not a Christian tradition, perhaps the most significant thing that Phil and I try to do is to finish the bulk of our Christmas shopping before Advent starts. It’s a lofty goal… Some years we do better than others. It takes much planning ahead before December even begins but we find that it is a worthwhile endeavor as it frees up mental space and calendar slots that we can dedicate to more important things. This means that we can spend more time with each other and with our kids preparing our hearts for Jesus’ birth without (most of) the preoccupation of shopping lists.
We started the Jesse tree tradition years ago when we had just two little ones. It continues to be something our children look forward to. I did not grow up with this tradition so I had to learn about it “on the job”: the Jesse Tree is a walk through the ancestors of Jesus Christ, starting with Adam and ending with Jesus Himself. Each day of Advent (technically the first twenty-five days of December) is assigned a different character from Jesus’s family tree. Each character also has a symbol that is displayed on an ornament and hung on a tree. We started with a set of ornaments that I acquired through an exchange but recently replaced those with a set of wooden blocks, hand painted with each symbol. We place all of the blocks on a wooden shelf in the shape of a tree and display a symbol each night as Christmas approaches.
Along with the Jesse Tree, we read a passage from the Bible that goes with Jesus’ ancestor of the day. We really love using a children’s Bible called The Jesus Storybook Bible because it is engaging for all ages and it tells stories simply and chronologically. This Bible may be intended for children but it has been inspirational for Phil and me, as well. With each story, our understanding of Jesus grows. We read one story every night at dinner time. Sometimes we miss a few and have to catch up. Alas! Such is life! On Christmas morning, while we eat breakfast, we read the final story: Jesus’ birth! Even knowing how the story goes, the build up is exciting for all of us. Having a tradition like this has been wonderful in keeping Jesus at the center of Advent and, furthermore, brings our whole family together to linger a little longer with each other.
We also light the candles on the Advent wreath at dinner time. Advent often sneaks up on me so I try to buy the candles well in advance so we can start on time. I also bought a beautiful Advent wreath that I love to display. Catching a glimpse of it throughout the day reminds me of the season and it’s a helpful physical reminder to turn my disposition towards preparing my heart for the birth of the Savior.
Though I try to wait as long as possible to decorate our home for Christmas (and I have a lot of festive decor), during Advent, I love to put nativity scenes wherever possible. This too is helpful for my spiritual disposition. It also sparks conversations with our kids about the things that they see in the manger… or what they don’t see. We don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas day. It is always a celebratory moment when the little kids can finally put Jesus in his straw crib.
We don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas day. It is always a celebratory moment when the little kids can finally put Jesus in his straw crib.
Lastly, in January, when I pack up Christmas, sending it up to the attic for another year of storage, I place the Advent things in a separate box. This avoids having to dig through the Christmas items when the following Advent begins. Having the Advent things readily available takes the guess work out of the preparation that goes into observing the season.
There are so many things we can do to observe Advent but these are the things that have worked well for our family. These traditions have helped me in my personal spiritual life so my hope is that they are also setting a foundation for our kids as they grow to make faith their own.
- Esther , a Lighthouse Member