Advent calendars are a popular way to count down the days to Christmas. I have seen a variety of them, such as boxes with doors to open each day to get a piece of chocolate, Lego calendars, garlands, etc. But most of the Advent calendars I see in big box stores focus on the arrival of Santa at Christmas rather than on the arrival of Christ. While it is a clever commercial tactic, Advent is actually a church tradition.
What is Advent?
Advent (adventus) is a Latin word meaning arrival or coming. In the liturgical calendar of the church, Advent is the period of preparation and anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas as well as of the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (or the Sunday nearest to November 30) in the Western Church, while in the Eastern Church, Advent is 40 days before Christmas and is a fast that is a similar period of penance and preparation that occurs during the 40 days before Easter.
Using an Advent Calendar at Home
While I do not personally attend a church which follows the liturgical calendar, I heard about using an Advent calendar in family devotions to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Using visuals and pieces of the Bible story and carols each day to tell the whole account, we also count down the days until Christmas from December 1 to 25. When I couldn’t find a Christ-centered Advent calendar with a devotional, I adapted felt finger puppets of a nativity scene to begin my own Advent calendar. Whether with your own calendar or through an Advent calendar devotional, Advent is a wonderful season to get into the Word of God as a family and remind ourselves of the real meaning of Christmas – Immanuel, God with us and Christ ultimately restoring our relationship with God through his death on the cross.
7 Reasons to Start (or Maintain) an Advent Calendar Devotional Tradition:
1. We allow our children to enjoy the fun of expectation! Advent is a season of anticipation since it means arrival or coming. It is a time of looking forward to the birth of Christ and secondly to his return! As an intentional parent, I wanted my kids to have an expectancy for the right reasons, since we want to use every opportunity to point them to Christ. Why get excited for Santa? How much better would it be to get excited each year over the idea that God became a man – born as a baby in a most unique and amazing story! Children love babies, so why not make this true story relatable and fun? An Advent calendar devotional tradition brings this anticipation of Christ’s birth and second coming each year!
2. We put the focus of the Christmas season in the right place – on Christ, God’s gift to us, not on Santa or physical presents and materialism. Not that it is wrong to give gifts, for we talk about why we give gifts at Christmas in that the Wise Men brought Jesus gifts and that God gave us the gift of His Son. But as the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season” and an Advent calendar devotional tradition helps us remember this!
3. We discover and remember the Christmas story each year – that is the true biblical and historical account of Jesus’ birth and the unique circumstances of the virgin birth – and are further encouraged in our study of the Word of God. It really is most astonishing that Christ the Son and second person of the Godhead humbled himself to become a baby and took on the nature of a servant as Immanuel, God with us! An Advent calendar devotional traditions helps us to slow down and look at each facet of the wonderful Christmas story and be amazed again!
4. We come to know and remind ourselves again of the gospel, God’s good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Christmas story of Christ’s birth never ends with Jesus being born but ultimately continues to the point of his death and resurrection, the Easter story. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
5. We establish the habit of devotions and worship as a family and teach our children that reading the Bible together is a delight. We model prayer and Bible study and singing to God.
6. We learn to sing to God and memorize carols to help us remember the truth of Scripture.
7. We spend important time together as a family and create memories. If you start this tradition when your children are toddlers, you probably don’t have as many commitments (like sports practices in the evenings), so devotions can become a lovely time to spend focused time together as a family. An Advent calendar devotional tradition – that is, repeating the same Advent devotionals each year – establishes these times as treasured memories and joyful and anticipated times.
How to Get Started with an Advent Devotional Tradition
Do you need help starting an Advent devotional tradition? Jus’ Classical has an Advent Devotional and pattern for making your own simple felt Advent calendar! The first year, you and your toddlers or preschoolers can make a felt representation of part of a Bible story each day to add to the calendar along with a devotion for the day. Then each year after this, wrap up the pieces and open one each day after the devotion.
This includes the pattern for creating the felt calendar and the accompanying devotional with suggestions for songs to go along with the Scripture reading each day.
Use the great masterpiece by George Frideric Handel, his oratorio Messiah, as the basis for your Advent devotions!
Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins