The four weeks leading up to Christmas Day are called Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.”
It is a season of waiting and preparation before the birth of Jesus, a time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the arrival of the baby Jesus.
The practices here, excerpted from my book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred, invite you and your family to observe a holy Advent, rooted in waiting and preparation.
How will you create holy space in your home and life this season?
- Make a “not-to-do” list.
Often, we busy ourselves with endless “to-do” lists, especially during a busy season such as Advent. One fun way to turn off worry and the tendency to achieve and to do is to make a “not-to-do” list.
What are the things you and your family want to be intentional about not doing this Advent season? Maybe your not-to-do list will include “spend too much time shopping” or “worry” or “schedule.” Approach this exercise with levity and fun.
- Acts-of-kindness Advent tree.
Step 1: Find a branch in your yard and put it in a vase.
Step 2: Write down acts of kindness (see below for examples) on paper ornaments and place them in a basket.
Step 3: As you complete each act of kindness throughout the Advent season, punch a hole in the ornament and tie it to your acts-of-kindness tree.
- Ten acts of kindness for an acts-of-kindness Advent tree.
- Hold the door open for someone at the store.
- Return grocery carts in a parking lot.
- Bake sweet treats and take them to a neighbor.
- Help a family member or friend put up Christmas lights or decorate their house.
- Leave a kind note on someone’s windshield.
- Write a thank-you note to someone who serves you.
- Collect mittens and hats for a local charity.
- Pick up trash in your neighborhood or local park.
- Bring dog or cat food to a pet shelter.
- Color paper placemats and take them to a senior center.
- Advent wreath.
To make your wreath, place four votive candles on a plate in a circle with a pillar candle in the center. Light one candle per week, starting with the first Sunday in Advent (four weeks before Christmas). On each subsequent week, light an additional candle.
The first week represents hope; the second, peace; the third, joy; and the fourth, love. On Christmas Eve, light all four candles as well as the candle in the middle, representing the baby Jesus.
During each of the four weeks of Advent, on Sunday evening after dinner, sit around the table with your dessert and candles and go through the simple routine of lighting the candle, discussing the Advent value and ending with a simple prayer.
Week 1: Hope
Light: Today we light the candle of hope.
Read (optional): Psalm 25:4-5
Discuss: What does it mean to have hope? What do you think about when you hear the word hope? How can we share hope with others?
Pray: “God, we thank you for giving us hope. Help us to have hope and to share hope as we wait for Jesus to be born. Amen.”
Week 2: Peace
Light: Today we light the candle of hope and the candle of peace.
Read (optional): John 14:25-27
Discuss: What does it mean to have peace in your heart? How can we share peace in our family and in the world?
Pray: “God, please help us to understand peace and to share it with others. We wait for Jesus to be born with hope and peace. Amen.”
Week 3: Joy
Light: Today we light the candles of hope, peace and joy.
Read (optional): Philippians 4:4-6
Discuss: What does it mean to rejoice? How is joy the same or different from happiness? How can we share joy with others?
Pray: “God, we thank you for the gift of joy. Help us to share it with one another. We wait for Jesus with hope, peace and joy. Amen.”
Week 4: Love
Light: Today we light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love.
Read (optional): 1 John 4:7-12
Discuss: When have you felt or seen God’s love? How can we show God’s love to the world?
Pray: “God, thank you for showing us what true love is. Help us to love you and to love one another. We wait for Jesus with hope, peace, joy and love. Amen.”
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day: The Christ Candle
Light: Today we light the candles for hope, peace, joy and love, and we light the center candle for the birth of Jesus.
Read (optional): Luke 2:1-16
Discuss: The day we have been waiting for is here! How does it feel to celebrate the birth of Jesus today? What does the birth of Jesus mean to you?
Pray: “God, today we are thankful for the birth of your son, Jesus, and for the lessons he teaches us about how to love one another. Help us throughout the year to share hope, peace, joy and love wherever we go. Amen.”
Pastor of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church in the Chicago area, mother of three and author of Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred, Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and Faithful Families: Everyday Prayers for Everyday Life. Her passion is helping families find times for connection and spiritual nourishment amid the hustle and bustle of daily life.