advent calendar

The season of Advent has just begun (in the Christian faith, this is the season of waiting and preparation, of anticipation and hope), and you still have time to put in place some type of daily practice or ritual to mark the passing of time from now until Christmas Eve. Perhaps something a little more thought-provoking than the simple opening of the door on the Advent calendar?

Though I certainly have nothing against Advent calendars. Isn’t this one incredibly pretty?

This waiting period is so important in the Christian faith that some churches hold off from parties and lights and celebrations until the symbolic arrival of the Christ Child–on the eve of December 24th.

I’m not suggesting we need to do that.

But…even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, wouldn’t a little holding back, a little anticipation be good for all of us this month? We are like little children, pleading and begging and rushing to open our packages. Don’t you just adore instant gratification? I think it’s what we have come to expect from life. It is certainly painful in many ways to wait for things, but I have found that it is in my times of waiting that I have grown the most.

I know that many of you have read my musings on winter and the symbolic and literal struggle between light and darkness in my life. It won’t surprise you then, that this time of waiting also anticipates the arrival of the winter solstice (around December 21st) when the amount of daylight will begin to increase once again:

This occurs on the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun‘s daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days. Wikipedia

All I can say about the arrival of that day is: Hallelujah!

So, back to Advent. Here are just a few ideas for how you might observe this season in a deeper way:

1. Light a candle each evening and say a simple prayer for those in need.

2. Commit to one small, generous gesture each day. Whether a note put in the mail, a kind word to a stranger, or your latte money into the Salvation Army bucket, these efforts will cause you to pause and observe the season in a non-commercial way.

3. Do a short seasonal reading either on your own or with your family each morning before you head out the door.

4. Set aside some cash that you would usually spend on holiday shopping this year. Instead, use these funds to buy a toy or food for a family in need. Add to it each day when you come home by emptying your pockets or purse. You’ll contemplate daily how much impact this seemingly small amount of money can have on someone else’s life.

If you have young-ish children to look after–and if you are as tired as I frequently am–you may wish that someone would organize something like this for you.

Blessedly, my friend Carol already has.

Carol doesn’t like to toot her own horn but she is a marvelous writer and an experienced educator. Most importantly, she has an intuitive gift for bringing adults and children together in tangible ways around lessons of faith.

Family Book of Advent

Her brand new book, The Family Book of Advent, offers 25 daily stories and activities created to help families celebrate the meaning of Christmas. Acknowledging how busy this season has become, Carol asks:

What if, instead of reining in our kids, we jumped into their joy? What if we used their sense of anticipation to teach them about Christmas?

The Family Book of Advent will give your family practical ways to encourage your children’s excitement while exploring the many lessons packed into the Christmas story.

The next time you hear the question for the thousandth time, “When will it be Christmas?” match your children’s enthusiasm and channel it into an opportunity to explore the best story ever told.

Carol did plenty of research before writing her book on the liturgy surrounding Advent. She opted to divide the four weeks into the less traditional (though certainly more accessible for children) categories of hope, peace, joy and love. Then she incorporated the traditional themes and symbols into the stories and crafts (light/darkness, anticipation, hope, prophecy, evergreens, wreaths, candles, angels).

This little book is–thankfully–not the least bit intimidating. Each day gets just a few small pages, so it feels very manageable to keep up. And at $4.99, it’s a fantastic gift to pass on to others who are interested in exploring Advent with their children.

You can buy it on Amazon, here. It’s ideal for children ages 5-9, although Carol’s found that even 4-year-olds like the stories and can do many of the activities.

Friends–no matter how you plan to observe this season of waiting–I wish you much peace and contentment. And many quiet moments to reflect and rejoice.