I love Christmas. I adore Christmas. I look all year for red bows, twinkling lights, and the opportunity to bake myself into oblivion when thick jeans and lumpy sweaters cover the effects of carb overloading.
But just as surely as "Jingle Bells" is on repeat and Santa is at the mall, something or somethings happen to bump into my happy during the most wonderful time of the year—frustrations, bills, conflict, a global pandemic—and my excitement is demoted to disappointment and a "hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with" attitude.
I mean, let’s be honest, some years don’t seem exactly Christmas-friendly. You know, like 2020.
And that's why I'm exctied about the season of Advent, which begins this Sunday.
Advent is known by most of us as a kind of count-down to Christmas (complete with cardboard cards and chocolate behind the doors), but originally it was an idea adopted by early Christian missionaries who found non-Christian cultures celebrating a season of light during winter. It was a reminder that light—the sun—was getting stronger, even though the nights were long. Evergreens were used in the celebrations as reminders, too, that the earth was growing, even when most green things appear dead. Christians were encouraged to adopt these trappings as means of representing Jesus Christ—spiritual light in spiritual darkness, and the hope of life even in death.
Centuries later, Christian churches use lights in a circle of evergreen to celebrate the coming birthday of Jesus Christ.
Now, I’m a Jesus girl, so I’m all about these metaphors and talking about them with my kids. But this year celebrating light in darkness, hope in troubled times, feels more important than ever.
I've partnered with the leaders of my local church, Fellowship Bible Church Rutherford County, to put together a list Advent resources for our community (see below), but I also reached out to Reverent Martha Touchton, Minister of Education at St. Marks United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, to talk about how and why practicing Advent can be helpful to our hearts in an especially stressful year.
Whether you already celebrate Advent or have never heard of it, here are five ways your family can celebrate this meaningful season leading to Christmas.
1. Remember Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love
Traditionally, each week of Advent leading up to Christmas follows the themes of Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love, accompanied by lighting one of the four candles each week, Bible readings, and songs. It's a way for Christians to reflect on who we believe Jesus is-- the promise and incarnation of these things. For Christians and non-Christians alike, Reverend Touchton says we can all meditate on these good qualities that we desire together and practice them at home and in the community throughout the month.
2. Take Time for Quiet
In a season dedicated to love and peace, most of us only find ourselves extra busy and stressed! Reverend Touchton says the staff at Saint Mark's will encourage their families to have a wreath at home and take time three or four times a week to light the week's candle, be quiet for a moment, and reflect on the week's themes. It's a tangible way to pause together in the end-of-year busyness and remember what it is we're celebrating.
3. Keep it Simple
The timeless message of simplicity can't be said too often for busy moms and dads (hear, hear!). Reverend Touchton suggested that if adding a new piece of decoration or obligation like a full wreath and candles to the home is too much, "Have fun with it and make a small wreath with play-doh and birthday candles instead!" It's a sweet way to get even small children in on the quiet act of reflecting (and simple, easy, and low-cost to boot).
4. Think Small
At Christmas when it's easy to think we have go big or go home (oh, wait, we're already all at home), Reverent Touchton says it is fine to think small-- to do small acts of devotion and reflection, small acts of kindness, small acts of celebration, this season. "Parents are already busy, tired, and stressed," she says, "So we encourage our families to just think of something small they can do, like make a card for a neighbor, help mom and dad with a chore, make some cookies for a relative."
5. Stay Connected
During our conversation Reverend Touchton said that her mission this year has been encouraging families to stay connected to one another, to God, and to the church-- something that's not easy during a pandemic! Like many churches, St. Mark's has been streaming online services, provided at-home family activity lessons and packets, and now for Advent they have created an outdoor setting of candles with weekly lightings at 4pm Sundays. The lightings can be attended in person and viewed online. Visit St. Mark's Facebook page to watch the streaming services and get notices about more Advent and Christmas activity ideas.
Advent can be a meaningful time to help our families pause in the midst of a busy, stressful season and year to celebrate what matters most-- faith, hope, love, and joy. If you would like more information on celebrating the tradition of Advent, check out these media below:
Advent Wreath Tutorial with Fellowship Bible Church
History and Background of Advent
Traditional Advent Bible Readings for 2020
Advent Family Books
The Adventure of Christmas, Lisa Whelchel
The Advent Jesse Tree, Dean Lambert Smith
Born a Child and Yet a King, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
The Jesus Storybook Bible A Christmas Collection, Sally Lloyd Jones
Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, Asheritah Ciuciu
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp
Advent Music Resources (drawn from The Gospel Coalition)
Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew Peterson
Patient Kingdom, Sandra McCracken
Waiting Songs, Rain for Roots
Immanuel, Melanie Penn
The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album, The Oh Hellos
Prepare Him Room, Sovereign Grace Music
A Worship Initiative Christmas Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Shane and Shane
100 Years of Nine Lesson and Carols, The Choir of King’s College
What traditions does your family share this season? Please share with readers in the comments!
Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama and Murfreesboro native who lives in the Blackman community with her husband and two children. Follow her at @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram. Got a column idea? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.