Advent is one of my favorite seasons. As a person who did not grow up celebrating Advent, I have absolutely fallen in love with it. Advent is beautiful and holy and full of hope!
(If you’d like to read more why you should follow the Church calendar in your home this Advent, you can read my previous post here.)
At first, it was hard for my family to make the transition from full-on Christmas mania to an intentional embrace of waiting and preparation but once we did, celebrating Advent has become a necessity for us in order to fully appreciate Christmas. Our children love to run up to the attic and bring down the “Advent” box. We set up all of the Advent traditions that make Advent meaningful to us.
Here are my all-time favorite Advent traditions in our house. I hope they bless your household as they have blessed mine!
1. The Advent Wreath
The very first Sunday of Advent, we set up our Advent Wreath and put it in the middle of our dining room table. The wreath is such a powerful sign to our family that we are joyfully waiting for the coming of our Savior, the Christ Child, as we light a new candle every Sunday night.
The Advent Wreath is a wreath of evergreens with four candles representing the four Sundays of Advent. There are three purple candles and one pink candle surrounding a white candle in the center. Everything about the wreath is symbolic and is a wonderful teaching tool. The circle represents eternity, the evergreens represent the eternal nature of God, and the candles represent a time of preparation and purification.
The color of the candles is also symbolic.
- Violet represents penitence as we prepare our hearts for the birth of our Savior.
- The rose or pink candle represents Mary, the willing servant of God and the mother of our Lord.
- The white candle represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve.
Every Sunday night, we gather as a family, have our Advent devotion, sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and light the next Advent candle.
It builds such anticipation to watch as every candle burns a little more. I love gathering in the evening, lighting the candles, breathing in the smell of evergreens and reading through the story of our salvation.
How to Make Your Own Advent Wreath
- Metal Advent ring or grapevine wreath. Both can be cheaply purchased from a craft store or online.
- Advent candle set (three purple and one pink candle)
- One white candle in a candle holder
- Fresh evergreen branches of your choice (pine, juniper, seeded eucalyptus, cedar, etc.)
- Pruning Snips
- Florists Wire
- Insert the purple and pink candles into the holders on the metal form or insert the candles equidistantly in between the vines of the grapevine wreath.
- Cut and place the greenery on your Advent wreath. For the metal form, use floral wire to attach your greenery. For the grapevine form, insert the greenery in between the vines.
- Place your wreath in the middle of your dining or breakfast table.
- Place the white candle in the middle of the Advent wreath.
2. Making Speculatius
This recipe has been a family favorite for years. I stumbled upon it when my children were little and they are by far our favorite Christmas cookie ever! Speculatius is a type of cookie made in western Germany. The cookies are traditional to eat on St. Nicholas Day and Christmas Day. The recipe requires that the dough sit in the fridge overnight but I promise you, they are worth the wait! Who doesn’t love buttery, crispy deliciousness?
And to further the Advent theme of joyful anticipation, why not use the time of waiting to enjoy something with your family that you might not make the time for otherwise? Spending time putting together a puzzle or playing a game of cards is a great way to emphasize the unexpected beauty of waiting.
How to Make Speculatius (Recipe)
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup shortening
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon soda
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 4 1/2 cups sifted flour
- Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.
- Add sour cream alternately with sifted dry ingredients.
- Knead the dough and shape into rolls.
- Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
- Roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
3. The Christ Child and the Christmas Crib Tradition
The Christ Child and Christmas Crib has become one of the most meaningful Advent traditions for our family.
On the first Sunday of Advent, right after evening devotions, we set the manger from our nativity scene out on the dining room table (you could also use a small basket). Next to the manger, we place a dish full of small pieces of straw (I use a bundle of raffia from my local crafts store and I cut it into small pieces).
We write down the names of every person in our family on little slips of paper. We fold the slips of paper up, place them in a bowl and pass the bowl around. Everyone takes a slip of paper with a name on it.
The person whose name you have drawn is now in your special care throughout Advent. From this day until Christmas, you do as many little favors for that person as you can. You have to provide at least one surprise every single day—but without ever being found out!
When the good deed is done, you go and add a piece of straw to the manger. We try to get the manger as full of straw as we can so that, when we put baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve, he is surrounded by our love and good deeds made visible with the straw.
My family takes this tradition very seriously! I can’t tell you how touching (and surprising!) it is to see my children sneaking around doing good deeds for someone else in our family. It really creates such a spirit of selfless love and generosity.
4. Advent Music
You’ve probably been fine with everything I have suggested so far, but this tradition is going to be the hardest sell. I know this because it was the hardest thing for me to transition to, but it has also been one of the most rewarding.
Advent, believe it or not, has Advent songs! Advent songs are very different from the songs of Christmas.
(If you’re interested, here’s an Advent playlist that I put together on Spotify.)
Think about the words to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. That’s a great Advent song and the words are all about our deep longing and desire for redemption.
Or, listen to another famous Advent hymn, “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending”. It is all about Jesus coming in glory at the second coming. The song swells and builds until it bursts out with the final stanza
“Saviour, take the power and glory:
Claim the kingdom for thine own:
O come quickly!
O come quickly!
O come quickly!
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!”
The song is absolutely amazing! I promise you will be blown away!
Yes, this is going to be hard to sing Advent songs rather than Christmas songs, but focusing on the songs of Advent only heightens and emphasizes Advent’s themes of longing and expectation.
And think about it, not singing Christmas carols throughout Advent will only make them that much more powerful when we finally get to sing them on Christmas Eve. When we finally get to Christmas Eve, we are all desperate to sing Christmas Hymns.
When our family stands for the first hymn at our Christmas Eve service, we are so ready to fully celebrate what we have been waiting all Advent long to celebrate, the long-awaited birth of Jesus! We belt “Joy to the World” out like never before!
What are your favorite Advent traditions? Let us know in the comments below!
If you’d like to learn more about Advent and how to celebrate it with your family and friends, please check out Ashley’s book, A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home (Revised and Expanded for 2020), now available for purchase!