What is Advent? A Family Guide for the 2023 Holiday Season

What is advent

I’m guessing you’re here because you’ve figured out there is more to this season affectionately known as Advent than chocolate calendars and snowglobes.

Advent is a time of reflection and preparation for the birth of Christ at Christmas and the future second coming of Christ.

“The word advent means “expectation.” What advent can do for us is create a sense of hope.”

– Louie Giglio

It probably sounds pretty full on if you’ve just come here after eating chocolate and merely wondering why you’re indulging in the sweet snack at breakfast.

Let’s dive in and have a look at what Advent is, the meaning of advent, and some of the practical ways to celebrate it.

Advent 2023 – When is it?

Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas, beginning the four Sundays before Christmas Day.

Advent 2023 will begin on Sunday, December 3rd, and end on Sunday, December 24th. 

Bible Readings for Advent 2023

The weekly themes typically fall into these categories. Here are some bible verses that you can use as advent readings with your family.

Week 1: Hope (or promise) – Isaiah 9
Week 2: Preparation (or waiting or prophecy) – Luke 1-2
Week 3: Joy (or peace) – John 1:1-18
Week 4: Love (or adoration) – John 3

The definition and origins of advent

Advent is the period of time leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is typically observed by Christians and begins four Sundays before Christmas Day.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming” or “arrival.”

The origins of Advent can be traced back to the 4th century, when it was first observed by Christians in Europe as a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

At that time, Advent was a season of fasting and penitence, similar to Lent, the period of preparation for Easter.

Over time, the focus of Advent shifted from a time of fasting and penitence to a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ.

Today, Advent is typically observed by Christians as a time of reflection and preparation for the Christmas season. Many Christians observe Advent by lighting Advent candles, reading scripture, and engaging in acts of charity and service.

Practical Ways to Celebrate Advent

In this section you will see some of the ways you can celebrate advent together as a family.

Lighting Advent Candles

Lighting candles is one of the most popular ways to mark the start of Advent.

Typically, a candle is lit each week to represent one of the four themes of Advent—hope, peace, joy, and love.

Because the color violet is a liturgical one that denotes a time of prayer, repentance, and sacrifice, three of the candles are purple.

The Advent wreath is one traditional way to use candles as a reminder of the season’s themes. There are many variations on this tradition, but normally, four candles are placed around a circle of evergreen boughs and then lit each week.

As a family, we use a single advent candle with numbers like this, which we light each day at the meal table.

Whilst it’s burning we go through a family advent devotional and talk about some of the things we are thankful for during this season.

Photo of a christmassy candle on the table

Special Church Services

Many churches observe Advent by holding special services and activities, such as Midnight Mass, carol services and prayer meetings.

You can look for special services in your local area and attend if you wish. Alternatively, you may wish to hold your own service or small group in your home, with family, friends and/or neighbors to celebrate, remember and give thanks.

Singing Advent Hymns

Advent carols and hymns are a beautiful way to express praise, thanksgiving and gratitude.

I know for me, that whenever I hear a Christmas carol or hymn I’m filled with warmth, wonder and delight. I’m also reminded of Christmas Eve services singing hymns with candlelight, and the many times I spent carol singing door to door.

Some of the most popular carols and hymns are O Holy Night, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, Once in Royal David’s City, Silent Night and Hark The Herald Angels Sing.

Practicing Acts of Kindness

Practicing acts of kindness is not limited to the advent season. That being said, the season lends itself to modelling the generous nature of God to others.

Ideas such as baking food for those in need. Providing store gift cards so they can go shopping and buy food and gifts for their family. It might be helping to provide money so they are able to heat their house during the winter.

There are so many ways to show kindness, be it through monetary means or just with time and thoughtfulness.

When we do this we reveal the heart and nature of God. Emmanuel – God with us.

Practicing Fasting and Abstinence

This is something many people choose to do with the purpose of focusing on Christ and not being distracted by all the trinkets, bells and whistles.

Christmas can be a very overwhelming, busy and distracting season.

So the very act of fasting or abstaining from certain things (social media, television, food, alcohol etc) and choosing to focus on the true meaning and beauty of the season is a powerful declaration.

God rewards those who set themselves apart for Him.

Making an Advent Wreath

Making an advent wreath is an activity you can do with the whole family and keep out all December. You can decorate it with your own decorations or buy one pre-made.

It’s a symbol that signifies the season, provides a visual for the countdown to the big day and serves as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

Often times people now make a wreath to hang on the door to their home, traditionally however the Advent wreath would be the centerpiece of the table and include the 4 Advent Candles.

They are created circular to represent God’s infinite love and are usually made of evergreen leaves, representing the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Making an advent christmas wreath

Participating in Advent Calendars

Maybe this is how you landed on this page. Advent calendars are synonymous with the Christmas season and again serve as a countdown to Christmas Day.

They are decorative pieces of card, cloth or even wooden drawers that look like doorways and windows and inside there is a gift or chocolate.

This is such a fun tradition to do as a family with kids.

I remember one year when I was young and emptied my chocolate advent calendar and ate all of them in one night and slipped the tray back inside.

Now with our own kids, the advent calendar is something they love (who doesn’t love chocolate?!). It also is a great ‘lead-in’ to talking about Christmas and Advent (whilst they munch on some pre-breakfast chocolate).

Spending Time in Quiet Prayer

Personal devotion is everything.

It’s where we speak to God, listen to God and we receive our identity, power and purpose.

Slowing down and making space in the midst of a busy Christmas season for quiet prayer helps still the soul, quiet the mind and focus on God’s presence.

This could be the first 2 minutes when you wake up, the final few minutes before you sleep or sometime during the day.

Quiet prayer and meditating on a verse is a powerful way to lean into the season and let God move and shape you.

Creating a Nativity Scene

Creating a physical nativity scene (that can be grown and added to each year) is a great way to help children understand the Christmas story and is a reminder of the real significance of the season. It’s the tangible story of a baby in a manger.

This is also a fun craft project, especially when a group gets involved to all make their own.

When you have your nativity scene complete, you can tell the story of Jesus to your children or extended family.

Family Devotions

A great way to focus on Christ and the spiritual significance of the season is through family devotions. This could be around the table at meal times or during special devotional times on a night or particular day.

This could involve reading of scripture, talking about what it means, praying and singing carols.

It’s a powerful way to involve the whole family, to set Jesus as the centre, and to remember and focus on God’s presence throughout this season.

Family Advent Activities

Organising family Advent activities is a great way to connect, have fun and enjoy the Christmas season.

Examples could range from movie nights, baking and decorating the house, carolling, writing and sending Christmas cards, to participating in a Christmas market or visiting a local charity.

The possibilities are endless.

It’s a great activity to encourage togetherness and to take a break from the retail madness!

Father and child christmas tree

Tips for a Joyful Advent Season

The Christmas season can be a time that steals all your peace and joy due to a variety of factors. Here are some tips to make it a joyful season.

Planning Ahead

1. Create a calendar.

Whether that’s on a whiteboard with the family or a spreadsheet, plan out things you can do, events you might participate in and time you’re going to set aside for devotions/reading/praying.

2. Buy gifts early.

Shopping for gifts post-November is a complete nightmare. Try to buy gifts and organize the delivery for early December. This will help to relax the pressure and take away some anxieties.

3. Stick to a budget.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the spend-and-spend mentality. Give yourself a budget (even if it’s difficult) and try to stick to it.

Slow Down, Be Present & Enjoy The Moment

Advent is a busy time with Christmas events, shopping, family time etc. Plan for rest and create space to recharge and refuel.

It’s also important to try and be present with those around you. Disable phone notifications and turn off that laptop! Listen to what your friends and family are saying and really take it in.

Finally, enjoy the moment! Look around, take a deep breath and actually pause and take in the beauty of Christmas!

Take a Break from Social Media

Social media can be overwhelming for many during the Christmas period. It seems there’s a never-ending stream of posts.

If you find that this is draining your energy and creativity, don’t be afraid to take a break and log out.

Taking away this distraction can free up more time to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and engage with people face-to-face, especially your kids!

Christmas Advent Affirmations

If you’re wondering what affirmations are then take a look at a blog we wrote all about biblical affirmations.

Speaking scripture, the promises of God and good/kind/positive things over yourself, your life and your family a recipe for God to show up!

Here are 5 quick advent affirmations you can speak daily to help root you in the reason for the season.

  1. I have the strength and patience to thrive in this season
  2. Because I have God in me, I am capable of maintaining peace in every situation.
  3. God loves to give good gifts and He never leaves me out!
  4. I will respect myself and others because we are all made in God’s image.
  5. I am enough!

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