I constantly strive to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. In an effort to pare down on the holiday craziness, we vowed to give experiences instead of stuff whenever possible and give only a couple high-quality gifts instead of lots of cheap ones that break the next day. We wanted to lessen the focus on gifts, and instead place it on the meaning of Christmas and our time together as a family.
Enter Advent …
What Is Advent?
Advent is the four week period prior to Christmas when Christians reflect on the meaning behind this holiday. Though you wouldn’t know it from the stores, the Christmas season actually STARTS on Christmas, not ends.
In fact, Christmas Day is the end of Advent and the beginning of the actual Christmas season. It also marks the start of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” which ends on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
Why Celebrate Advent?
For us, Advent is a key time of reflection, preparation, and family time. The significance of this season is often marked by Advent wreaths and calendars that help us focus on the real meaning of the Christmas feast (more on these below) and a general waiting, waiting, waiting in anticipation for the excitement of Christmas.
If you’d like to learn more about Advent or begin celebrating it in your home, here are some ideas from our own family traditions to get you started!
A typical Advent wreath involves an evergreen wreath with four candles (three purple, one rose). Each Sunday of Advent, an additional candle is lit. The purple candles are reminders of the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, to represent a time of rejoicing, because this marks the midpoint of Advent.
How to Make an Advent Wreath at Home
I decided early on to make our Advent wreath from scratch (anyone surprised?), not only to save money but also because I’m not a fan of most candles and wanted to use beeswax candles instead. I also didn’t love the idea of a wreath that would sit in the attic the rest of the year and not have a purpose so I decided to make a non-toxic, reusable Advent wreath. (Side note, early in our marriage, my husband had an Advent wreath with candles that he had owned for years, and when we stored it in the attic, all the candles melted one summer and caused a HUGE mess!)
Turns out, there are not really any search results that help with that so I looked around at things I already had in the house. I love the final product and you might already have all of the supplies laying around your house like I did!
DIY Advent Wreath Supplies Needed
- 4 mason jars (or any jar of similar size)
- 4 beeswax candles (or make your own)
- 1 large plate or wooden tray (big enough to fit the four mason jars)
- purple and pink ribbon or other items that can be used to signify the different colors
- assorted evergreen clippings from outside
DIY Advent Wreath Tutorial
I’m all about keeping things simple and this wreath is no exception. This Advent wreath takes only a couple minutes to make and after Advent can be disassembled and used for other purposes until the season rolls around again.
- Find a plate or tray big enough to fit all four mason jars and place them on it. (Don’t worry too much about it being decorative; the evergreen pieces will cover most of it.)
- Put a beeswax candle inside each mason jar.
- Tie a piece of twine or ribbon around each jar to denote which color candle it is.
- Clip some evergreen pieces and pinecones and place them around the candles on the plate/tray.
- Viola! You have an advent wreath!
Advent calendars are a fun way to count down the days until Christmas. There are countless variations and styles (including some themed!). Often, there is a little treat that corresponds with each day. There are store bought options too, like these:
but we prefer a handmade yearly calendar. Our handmade advent calendar encourages a spirit of giving and kindness.
We have a hanging cloth wall calendar with a small envelope pinned to it for each day of Advent. Inside each envelope is a card with a small good deed or act of kindness that we can all do that day. This helps all of us keep the focus on giving rather than receiving. I used this DIY tutorial as a template and printed cards with acts of kindness to go in each mini envelope.
Nativity Set (or Creche)
In our family, the nativity scene (also called a creche) is a special reminder of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We have several that we put out at the beginning of Advent each year including:
- The Kid Set: We’ve pretty much always had babies and toddlers in the house and we got this unbreakable nativity set from the grandparents one year. It is great for little ones who want to be hands-on.
- Fontanini: We have an ever-growing set of Fontanini figures. We add one piece per year. I love these because they are indestructible and look pretty realistic too.
- Willow Tree: This is the set in the background of the picture above. I love the simple look of this set and it goes in the middle of our dining room table during this part of the year.
Advent Christmas Angel
Some people do Elf on the Shelf, and we do the Christmas Angel! This adorable stuffed angel acts a prop to get kids (and parents!) thinking about what acts of kindness to do for others. There’s a whole program available with 25 days of activities to go along with the angel here.
Advent Books for Kids
These are fantastic children’s read-aloud books for Advent that the whole family will enjoy!
- The Miracle of St. Nicholas
- The Donkey’s Dream
- The Legend of the Poinsettia
- Lucia: Saint of Light
- Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
A Not-So-Merry Tradition: The Krampus!
An Advent tradition post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a more unusual tradition: telling the story of the Christmas Krampus!
Never heard of a Krampus?
I hadn’t either until I heard my husband’s stories from college. He studied in Austria during college and picked up on this well-known German Advent tradition. The Krampus is a rather frightening half-man, half-goat figure well known throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic.
The story goes that Krampus travels with Saint Nicholas, leaving coal for naughty children or scaring them into behaving. The Eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day is Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, in Austria and some other parts of Europe. On this night, Krampus takes to the streets, visiting the homes of misbehaving children.
While the Krampus is no Christmas angel, it’s a story that stuck with my husband and the kids have fun hearing it each Advent to heighten the suspense before we celebrate St. Nicholas’s feast day on December 6th.
Thankfully, in our house, the Krampus is nothing more than a story and a memory, but still part of our Advent tradition.
Your turn! I’d love to hear if your family does anything during Advent and what traditions you have … share below!