Let’s Start with a Quick Quiz
Mentally check all that apply to you.
I love the idea of traditions, but I have such a tough time carrying them out year after year.
The topic of traditions makes me feel like a failure.
I sure hope traditions aren’t a prerequisite to getting into heaven.
If you find yourself struggling when it comes to Christmas traditions, you aren’t alone. There is hope for those of us who are unstructured yet love tradition. One of my favorite traditions has developed randomly and naturally through the years. Let this inspire you!
A Quick Introduction to Advent
In case you aren’t familiar with Advent, here’s a quick introduction. Advent is a season of spiritual preparation for Christ’s birth that begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. Each church and denomination has different doctrine and traditions about celebrating advent (or not celebrating it at all).
Most advent observing churches use a set of four or five candles that represent four specific attributes of Christ. These attributes are hope, love, peace and joy. Some denominations have specific colors for their candles, order of attributes celebrated, readings, or scriptures that are to be followed.
But if you love to break rules for all the right reasons, keep reading.
A Bit of Backstory
When I was a little kid, I delighted every year when our church put up the huge hanging advent wreath with all the beautiful tree branches and special candles.
Advent grabbed my heart young heart. I loved the big purple and pink candles, and the huge wreath they were on, suspended from the ceiling. I couldn’t wait to hear scriptures that each candle represented. Anticipation lighting the candles felt like such an important moment. It was the best when our family got a turn to lead advent for the week, once every few years. I could stare at the glow when all the candles were lit on Christmas eve. It brought me such peace.
In fact, I loved it so much when I was ten years old, I created special “advent services” that my parents had to attend in our living room each Sunday evening. It was great! I got to preach, set the atmosphere and light the special candles. My dad was a walking concordance so he would give me a scripture to read for each attribute (this was way before Google my friends). My brother, a musician played a corresponding hymn or two that we all sang as the candle was lit for the week.
I discovered how important advent is to my Christmas season when we began going to a church that didn’t observe it. I really missed the tradition but couldn’t ask our church to do it for me. So, I created our own advent tradition at home, like when I was younger (I’m such a rebel).
The only traditional parts of advent I keep are celebrating the four Sundays before Christmas and the four attributes of Christ, hope, peace, joy and love. Everything else changes from year to year, and l delight in that randomness!
Some Practical Considerations
I select a central location in my home to celebrate advent. It becomes a sacred spot where anyone can enjoy the candles.
I set the five candles some place where little kids can’t reach, like the mantle above the fireplace (because candles…)
I use tea lights or pillar candles because you can burn them in containers and they won’t make a drippy mess like tapers.
I study the words hope, peace, joy and love in my Bible, in no particular order. I simply study one each week and choose a verse which becomes my focus for each word.
Your Turn to Try
The heart of the season is what matters to me most. Some years, I’m the only one in my home observing advent; other years my family is involved.
One thing that you can do is choose the color of candles you want for the four attributes, just because some churches have specific colors, doesn’t mean you must. Additionally you could use a white, gold or special candle for the fifth candle, which symbolizes Christ’s birth. Setting up your advent space can be pretty random, but the spontaneity makes it alive and faith-building for me year after year. I don’t place expectations on myself. Let God lead you and enjoy preparing for Christ’s birth in this way.
I invite you to mark the four Sundays before Christmas this year with candles and a focus on hope, joy, peace and love. Make it as simple as you want to fit your heart and faith. The point is to connect with the coming of Christ and the hope, love, joy and peace he brought when he was born.
What color will my candles be this year?
I haven’t yet decided.
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