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I constantly strive to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. In an effort to pare down on the holiday craziness, I vowed to give experiences instead of stuff whenever possible. I’ll give only a couple high-quality gifts instead of lots of cheap ones that break the next day. This lessens the focus on gifts and instead places it on the meaning of Christmas and time together as a family.
What Is Advent?
Advent is the four week period before Christmas. It’s a time for Christians to reflect on the meaning behind this holiday. Similar to Lent, it’s a time of preparation. The advent season celebrates the birth of Jesus and anticipates the second coming of Christ.
Different denominations from the Catholic church, to Lutheran, to Protestants all celebrate the season of advent. Things like Advent calendars have even become a popular activity with non-religious families. You wouldn’t know it from the stores, but 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 Traditions?
For us, Advent is a key time of reflection, preparation, and family time. The significance of this season is often marked by calendars and lighting candles on the Advent wreath. These Advent customs 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.
Want to learn more about the weeks of Advent or begin celebrating it in your home? Here are some ideas from our own family traditions to get you started!
Advent wreaths have been around in some form for hundreds of years. They likely started in pre-Christian Germany but were later modified and adopted by both the Lutheran and Catholic churches.
A typical Advent wreath involves an evergreen wreath with four Advent candles (three purple, one rose). Each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit. The purple candles are reminders of the prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices, and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. This one represents a time of rejoicing because it marks the midpoint of Advent.
Some newer wreath traditions include a fifth candle or white candle at the center. This Christ candle represents the messiah Jesus Christ.
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: Years ago I had an Advent wreath with candles that I’d owned for years. When it got stored in the attic, all the candles melted one summer and caused a HUGE mess!
Turns out, there aren’t 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 the supplies laying around your house like I did!
DIY Advent Wreath
- Place the mason jars on the plate or tray. 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 ribbon around each jar to denote which color candle it is.
- Clip some evergreen pieces and pine cones and place them around the candles on the plate/tray.
- Violà, you have an advent wreath!
If your family likes doing crafts together, you may also enjoy putting together a DIY Christmas Garland to Spruce up Your Home.
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 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. It’s a visual representation of the birth of Christ and the Christmas story. The nativities feature Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger, with some shepherds and animals. Some sets have angels, wise men, and other Bethlehem visitors. 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. The grandparents got them an unbreakable nativity set one year. It’s great for little ones who want to be hands-on.
- Fontanini: We have an ever-growing set of Fontanini nativity set figures. We add one piece per year. I love these because they’re indestructible and look pretty realistic too.
- Willow Tree: This is another set we have in our home. I love the simple look and it goes in the middle of our dining room table during this part of the year.
Advent Traditions: Christmas Angel
Some people do Elf on the Shelf, and we do the Christmas Angel! You can find any stuffed angel and it acts as a prop to get kids (and parents!) thinking about what acts of kindness to do for others. Ours leaves notes for the kids and encourages them to do something kind for someone. It also gives them ideas on how to be kind. Sometimes, the angel leaves some kindness along the way with chocolates or little gifts for the kids.
Advent Books for Kids
These are fantastic children’s read-aloud books for Advent 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!
Family traditions happen in funny ways. This Advent post wouldn’t tell the whole story of our Advent traditions unless it included: The Krampus!
Never heard of it?
Me neither, until I heard the stories of this well-known German Advent tradition.
The Krampus is a rather frightening half-man, half-goat figure. He’s 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 even called Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, in Austria and some other parts of Europe.
While the Krampus is no Christmas angel, it’s a story that stuck with my kids. They have fun hearing it each Advent to heighten the suspense before we celebrate St. Nicholas’s Feast Day on December 6th. Hear a fun, light-hearted version of the Krampus story here.
Your turn! I’d love to hear if your family does anything during Advent and what traditions you have … share below!