Nov 28, 2014

Ideas on Celebrating Advent (Q and LA)

Welcome to our eighth session of Q and LA (questions and Lutheran answers). As you may recall,

"This is just a discussion that we wish we were having over tea and coffee in someone’s living room. There would probably be kids yelling in the background. There would probably be cookies, and spilled tea."

Feel free to join our virtual tea party by chiming in with your own advice, input, or anecdotes (we love anecdotes) in the comments.

If you want to send us questions for a later addition of Q and LA, you can add them below in the comments or e-mail them to sister-daughter-mother-wife (at)

Today's Question:
It can be hard to celebrate Advent when the department store is blasting Bing Crosby in September. What are ways that you “keep Advent?” I’m interested in family traditions, but also in hearing ideas on how a single person (who might feel silly with an Advent wreath all for herself) can live according to the seasons of the Church Year. 
Editor's Note:

I very much enjoyed hearing which unique Advent  customs are most significant to different Lutheran sisters, and I hope that you will also! Advent is a lovely time for family traditions and for personal reflection and study. However, different customs are appropriate for different families and different individuals, and we hope that no one will find these ideas discouraging because of their abundance. Fortunately, we are not judged on the purity or purpleness of our Advent celebrations. We could ignore Advent completely without in the least altering the supremely important birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Which is fortunate, because some years, my Advent activities are a lot less impressive than others.

Beth Rice

There are several ways to keep Advent "fresh" when Christmas, via the marketing people, is getting thrust upon us earlier each year. One is to read the scriptures leading up to Jesus' birth. Each day read a bit of Luke's first and second chapters, Matthew 1:18-2:23, and John 1:1-34, taking time to really study the Word.

Another suggestion would be to slowly decorate your living space, your apartment or home for Christmas. Rather than rushing to "get it done in a day," savor the changing of your space to truly celebrate our Savior's incarnation. Do this by only putting up one or two decorations each day, remembering events, people, and places in the past associated with those decorations. Pray for those people while you hang the decorations that remind you of them. 

Attend worship each week, and if there is an Advent Bible study offered at your church, go! I simply love living in the church seasons, rather than the commercial seasons of the stores. Actually I stay away from stores as much as I can, buy just groceries and stay away from malls and shopping centers. I hope these few suggestions may help.

Leah Neuendorf

When I was in college, I made up some simple flash cards that corresponded to the four Sundays in Advent. Each one displayed the theme (either hope, love, joy, peace or watch, prepare, rejoice, behold) and an appropriate number of candles (colored purple or blue, and pink, like an Advent wreath). Each week I posted another card on the wall. Then, in the midst of early Christmas activities, I was reminded that at church/in the Church, we were still observing Advent.

Rehema Kavugha

I must admit that after going to a Christmas craft fair this weekend, I was inspired and put up my Christmas tree.  There was no holiday music, cookies, or hot chocolate, but I simply put it up since I was "in the mood" and I knew I would be gone during the Thanksgiving holiday and wanted something up when I returned on Dec. 1st.

Advent is always so easy to pass up in a world that is focused on the gifts and not the reason.  The discussion has been going around in my office, among friends, and even at church on how you can help people, particularly children, focus on Christ and not on the gifts.

As a teacher, teaching the meaning behind the colors of the season and the symbols that are around was a great way.  The school where I previously worked also celebrated St. Nicholas day on Dec. 6th, which helped students acknowledge Santa but then move on to Christ.

Another great thing is to sing hymns that give the whole picture.  One that jumps out to me is Savior of the Nations Come. Taking a verse or two a week throughout the Advent season can help a family (or even myself as a single person) be reminded and excited about all the implications Christ's birth gives to us as Christians.

As a single young lady, I still really appreciate having an advent calendar.  Not for the candy or the picture but because it connects to my childhood and to my family that is far from me. For me the calendar is something I want to share with my own children, God willing, so I continue to do it as my parents did with me. A friend of mine recently told me that during Advent, she often reads the Passion story. As Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year, it is ultimately because of the death AND resurrection that we even have a Church Year and have any hope and joy--that is so important during this time of year.

So how do you keep Advent?  You focus on Christ and not yourself.  Your excitement shouldn't be over getting a new cell phone or the latest video game but the excitement and joy should be that we are saved and redeemed because of a little babe born in Bethlehem so many years ago. "From the manger newborn light / Shines in glory through the night. / Darkness there no more resides / In this light faith now abides" (LSB 332 vs. 7).

Heather Judd

It is true that Advent traditions such as wreaths or calendars feel a little silly for a single Christian. One of the best ways I know to keep Advent is to attend midweek Advent services. Setting aside work and holiday preparations to sit and listen to the Word in the quiet dark of evening is deeply meaningful and restorative. It is also helpful to remember that Advent is in some ways a mini-Lent. It, too, is a penitential season graced most appropriately with increased devotion to prayer and study, offerings and fasting. Dedicating oneself to a small but significant spiritual discipline during Advent--whether it be choosing to add an extra devotional reading to each day or to refrain from some favorite treat until Christmas or to pray daily for certain people or needs--can move the spirit to greater humility and direct the mind toward the season's true focus of repentant watchfulness.

Rachel Kovaciny

What's silly about an Advent wreath for one person?  It doesn't strike me as any sillier than a Christmas tree for one person, and were I single, I would absolutely put up a Christmas tree every year.  If an Advent wreath helps you remain focused on the stages of Advent, then go for it!

Some years when I was a kid, my family had an Advent wreath, and we'd light the appropriate candles each night and read an Advent devotion.  No idea what book they came from, but I'm sure there are options around.  You might even be able to download them on your phone or computer, in this day and age.  We didn't do that every year, though.  Other years, we focused on our nativity set, adding a certain piece to it each day and reading the part of the Christmas story associated with it.

Every year, we attended Advent services on Wednesday nights (very mandatory, as my dad is a pastor).  Our church here doesn't have Advent services, they have Advent Family Nights each Wednesday night, with a potluck supper followed by a devotion led by our pastor. This is nice, but I do miss the actual services of my youth, especially singing all the Christmas hymns in the weeks leading up to Christmas, because that way we got to sing more of the Christmas hymns than can be crammed into a couple of services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

So my suggestion is, celebrate Advent by making sure you take time every week or every day to focus on Christ's birth and what it means.  If your church has Advent services, attend them!  If it has a choir and you can sing or play an instrument, join it and participate in the Christmas services!  Sing Christmas hymns in your car, put up an Advent wreath and a nativity scene, read Advent devotions -- whatever helps you "keep Advent."

Leigh Spittel

Observing Advent in an increasingly commercial world is difficult, but Christ calls us to live counter culturally and to prepare our hearts and minds for His blessed birth. The Christian's quiet and devoted observance during the penitential season of Advent is one way that God gives "light to the Gentiles." My family observes Advent in several ways, beginning with regular attendance at Sunday and mid-week Advent worship services. Around our home we place our Advent wreath in the center of the dining room table and light the appropriate candle(s) for each week during dinner and a short devotion. We also have a two foot tall "Advent Tree," decorated simply with white lights and printed symbols (paperboard with a string loop) that are added to the branches each night along with a devotional reading. The Advent Tree is displayed in a window that can be seen from the street. Gift Shopping may be done after Thanksgiving, but holiday decorating, baking and gift wrapping is not started until December 21, The Feast of St. Thomas, and outside lights and tree lights are not lit until Christmas Eve. While my family observes the Twelve Days of Christmas, we are quietly witnessing to our neighbors that we are indeed "unique."

Single people can adapt these Advent and Christmas observances in scaled-down ways. A smaller Advent wreath can be made with supplies that you purchase from a craft store and adapt to suit your decorating preference. If you like the "Advent Tree" concept, then purchase a table top sized, artificial tree at a maximum height of two feet. If you prefer, purchase a silk garland swag, add lights and use in place of the tree. Add Christmas ornaments after the Fourth Sunday of Advent, along with the Advent symbols through the Twelve Days of Christmas. A great reference book that my family uses is Around The Year With The Trappe Family, by Maria Augusta Trappe (1955). This one book offers family traditions, decorating ideas, and baking recipes. The Advent symbols and devotional book, Countdown To Christmas by Laura K. E. Zimmerman (1997) is also great.

Cheryl Magness

The primary way that we keep Advent in our family is through attendance at midweek Advent services, so that is my first suggestion. If your congregation observes Advent in this way (and I very much hope it does!), you should make a point of attending those services. I know of no better way to prepare for the coming of the Christ child than to stand watch in the place where He has promised we can find Him.

Beyond that, there are a few other ways we have kept Advent over the years. I know many people have a family Advent wreath, but it never seemed that important to us since lighting the Advent wreath is a part of Advent church services. Instead we have tended towards observances that would assist us in counting off the days until Christmas. Many years ago AAL (Aid Association for Lutherans) came out with a devotional book covering the time not only of Advent but of Christmas through the Feast of Epiphany. Each day included a punch-out ornament with a picture of one of the symbols of the season and an accompanying Scripture reading and reflection. We used this resource for several years, hanging the ornaments on a small Advent tree, and it was appropriate for all ages. I doubt it is still available, but there are probably similar resources out there. Another thing that we have done and continue to do is to follow the readings in Treasury of Daily Prayer, Portals of Prayer, or a similar publication. There is truly no better way to mark the days of Advent than through Bible reading and prayer.

Here are a few more possibilities for providing a greater spiritual dimension to a very busy season:

1) Commit to memorizing one or more Advent hymns. See if you can find out from your pastor or cantor what hymns will be sung in church, and work on memorizing them so that before the season is over you can sing them without the hymnal.

2) If you are not already in the habit of doing daily devotions, there is no better time than Advent to start! When you wake up and before you go to bed, follow the outline for daily prayer provided in Lutheran Service Book, pp. 295-98. There are also rubrics for noon and early evening if you want to enrich your prayer life even more.

3) Increase your commitment to serving your neighbor by putting a few more dollars in the plate each week or by engaging in a heightened level of volunteering or service. Offer free babysitting to the mom who needs to get out and do Christmas shopping, or donate your time to the local soup kitchen. Or keep it simple and just make a point of going out of your way daily to say or do something kind for someone else.

One of our most cherished traditions marks not the beginning but the end of Advent and the arrival of Christmas. Every year on Christmas Eve morning we gather as a family to listen to the live broadcast of the Lessons and Carols service from King's College, Cambridge, England. If you are not familiar with the broadcast and would like to know more, here is a link to a post I wrote about it on my personal blog several years ago. Blessed Advent!

Kaitlyn Nowak

That's a good question! In my case, the courtyard of my office building started sporting several Christmas trees in early November. I don't have any traditions with my fiancĂ© yet, but my family has always “kept Advent” by going to midweek Advent services. This is probably not nearly as creative as some Advent traditions, but I find it incredibly beneficial.

One perk of going to Advent services is that the practice has a built-in accountability mechanism. It's easy for me to skip or slack on my personal Advent activities when all the responsibilities of life are there to distract me, and are maybe somewhat magnified leading up to Christmas. But if I skip an Advent service when my friends and pastors know I always go, someone will reach out and remind me of the importance of what I missed. And what exactly would I have missed? Receiving from my Savior! Yes, I already do this on Sundays, but as life gets crazier and the dark winter nights get longer, I know that I can go to each midweek service and receive the Light of the World. It might sound a bit lazy, or maybe even selfish, to say that during Advent I focus on receiving rather than adding something extra to my personal piety. But when you think about it, receiving from Christ is the heart of the Christian life. I hope to eventually start further traditions, especially if God blesses me and my fiancé with children. But for now I know I'm incredibly blessed to be able to take a break and receive from my Savior twice as often during Advent!


Fellow-bloggers: Don't forget that you can join our link-up party with an Advent post anytime between now and Christmas. The links are also a way to find fellow Lutherans online.


1 comment:

  1. I really like Beth Rice's suggestion to pray for your friends and relatives who gave you different decorations as you put them up. I'm going to begin that today.


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