I get a lot of questions about this, so I thought I would share our most loved and longest-held family tradition that happens every Advent Season.
What is Advent?
In Latin, it means “to come to”. It is a timeframe of the liturgical year that involves the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. For Christians, it is a time of expectancy, anticipation and preparation, as we wait to celebrate the coming of Jesus on Christmas morning; and more significantly, the coming of Jesus into all the moments of our daily lives, and the hopeful promise of His second coming.
Each of the four weeks have a central focus/theme: Hope, Joy, Peace & Love (in that order). A traditional Advent wreath sits on the dinner table with 4 candles (3 purple and 1 pink) around the wreath, and a larger white candle in the center (The Christ candle). The candles are lit each week at dinner.
For our family, it has been a purposeful way to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas season, while also extending the celebration and family time - we do not just celebrate on Christmas morning, which can sometimes be anti-climactic and over so fast. Instead, we gather, celebrate, break bread and worship together on four occasions before Christmas morning even arrives. It extends and deepens the significance of the holiday season.
What do we do?
This has been a tradition for around 2 decades, so it has looked a little different over the years, and it has evolved as our family has grown. When we started, there were no small children (except my younger brother who was around 8 years old). Now we have 10 children in attendance, ranging from 11-years old, all the way down to two in utero. We have needed to adapt and be flexible as the needs of the family have changed over the years.
We share a long, 4-course meal that each participating family contributes a course to. The dinner is fashioned after a Seder meal, which is a traditional Passover meal that includes Scripture reading, meditations, prayer & hymns with each course that is served. It ends up being a very long meal, which is intended to be apart of the enjoyment and celebration. Our culture has lost the leisurely merriment and conversation that can happen around the dinner table. The long Seder meal format forces us to stay in community and conversation at the table. The scriptures, prayers, meditations and hymns that are read/sang for each course are centered around the Advent theme for the week and the coming of Jesus into the world. My mom types up all of the readings ahead of time so everyone can read and follow along.
Each week, a different family hosts the meal in their home. This helps to spread the burden of preparation, and gives everyone a chance to share their home and hospitality.
What about all the kids?
They can be very distracted and distracting. It can also get very loud, like ridiculously loud. But they are a big part of why we make the effort to do this. There are so many opportunities for learning and growth around the Advent table, so we all do our best to just roll with the chaos. All of us adults look back fondly on the “glory days”, when it was just adults and we could all sit back, relax and leisurely enjoy a delicious meal with no distractions, crying, fighting, spilled drinks, dropped food, nursing babies, complaints or noise. Oh the joys of children. Those days are gone, but now we have the privilege of teaching the next generation many valuable lessons and deep truths…
honoring God in a culture that easily gets caught up in busyness and consumerism of the holidays
what it looks like to be in community as a family
feeling a sense of love and belonging in their family
patience as they wait for the next course and for the completion of the dinner experience
an example of gathering in a culture of isolation, loneliness, fear and broken families
how to appreciate real food and participate in lively dinner conversation
basic dinner table etiquette (a work in progress)
how to sit still and listen and not interrupt (we do our best)
making lasting memories with people who love them the most
moving the focus away from all the gifts and closer to the hope of the coming Messiah
And so much more!
I hope this helps to trigger some ideas for your own Christmas traditions. May you and your family find meaningful ways to celebrate the holiday season!