According to the traditional church calendar, the Christmas season begins (surprise!) on Christmas Day and lasts until Epiphany, the celebration of the coming of the Magi.
The season we are in now, that began yesterday, is Advent, a series of weeks that looks ahead to the coming of Christ, when we can prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Advent is a season that has tended to be overlooked, but it has gained more attention and popularity recently. There are a couple of great articles I've read that give the background of Advent and why to celebrate it, but what I want to share are some ways you can incorporate Advent into your home this year as you prepare for Christmas.
Advent calendar - even the secular world has picked up on this idea, with cardboard calendars that count down to Christmas Day by hiding a picture or a piece of candy or even a small toy behind a door for each day of December. But to help prepare your our hearts for Christmas, bypass the calendars that feature Santa Claus and go for one that centers on the birth of Jesus (like this one). Another version of this is the "Cradle to the Cross Wreath" that our family uses. No pictures or candies, but very significant.
Advent devotions - this goes one step beyond the Advent calendar to include a Scripture reading and thoughts about it for each day of Advent. There are online devotionals and print ones, for children and for adults. The website Grace for Moms has a free one that you can download that is very good!
Advent wreath - this tradition goes back to the fourth century. The idea is to have a wreath with four, or sometimes five, candles, one for each Sunday of Advent (yesterday was the first), and a white candle in the middle for Christmas Eve. For each candle, you read a Scripture passage that focuses on that Sunday's theme (traditionally, the most common are hope, love, joy, and peace, but there are lots of variations on this, as this at-home devotional guide demonstrates and this one that focuses on different themes entirely). By the way, if you have experienced the loss of a baby in pregnancy or infancy, there is series of Advent Sunday devotionals at www.naomiscircle.org. Check it out.
Jesse Tree - this goes along with the Advent devotions idea, but focuses on Bible passages that tell the story of redemption, from Creation up to the birth of Christ, so lots of passages from the Old Testament. A great article about it and list of the Scriptures for each day is on The Voice from the Christian Resource Institute. The devotional at Grace for Moms would support this, although some of the passages may be a little different
Intentional Advent activities - doing anything during this time that focuses our attention on Jesus would fit the bill here. Some ideas:
- choosing a birthday present for Jesus by donating to a needy community through an organization like World Vision
- seeing a live Nativity
- random acts of kindness (here is a calendar from 2011 with some creative ideas)
- Operation Christmas Child (which is already over for this year, but you can tuck it away as an idea for next year)
- Angel Tree
- donating gently used toys
- wrapping up Christmas books you already have (or library books) and opening one each day to read and enjoy