Observing Advent

In our secular culture it would be difficult to observe Advent in the strictly traditional way.  But there are things we can do to observe the season that bring back some of the symbolism and meaning.

Advent calendar
An Advent calendar is a calendar with numbered compartments, one for each day of December until Christmas.  The compartments are opened, one per day, to reveal a toy or treat inside.  This activity helps children endure the seemingly endless wait until Christmas, while at the same time introducing the theme of waiting and expectation.  An online Advent calendar for adults has been posted by Trinity church in New York.

Advent wreath
An Advent wreath is a horizontal wreath of greens holding four candles, used to mark the passage of the four weeks of Advent. The four candles are blue or purple, except the third candle can instead be pink.  One candle is lit on the First Sunday of Advent, then on each of the succeeding Sundays the previous candles are relit and an additional candle is added. If a pink candle is used, it is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent.   An optional center candle, the Christ candle, is white and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The other candles can be switched out for new white candles, and the five white candles lit during the 12 days of Christmas.  The Advent wreath is used in church services as well as private homes.

There are various interpretations of the symbolism of the elements of the wreath, and there is no one correct way.  The important thing is to allow the wreath to remind us of the meaning of the season, especially as it differs from the Christmas season. 

How to make your own Advent wreath

How to use an Advent wreath to observe Advent  

Jesse tree
A Jesse tree is a tree or branch on which one ornament is hung on each day of Advent.  The ornaments represent ancestors of Jesus, including Joseph and Mary; King David; Amraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and Adam and Eve.  It is a good way to teach children about characters in the Bible.