Growing up, my favorite part of the Christmas season was celebrating Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. This is a common practice in Austria, where my Dad lived in his early twenties, and in many European countries. Every Sunday we would light our Advent wreath, recite the traditional poem and then sing Christmas songs together in anticipation of the arrival of Christmas. I assume that most of my Advent excitement as a little kid revolved around playing with matches, listening to my Dad play the guitar and being with my family. But as I’ve carried on this tradition as an adult I’ve gained a new appreciation for the value of marking the progress of Advent.
It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed with Christmas preparations and run out of time to actually celebrate Christmas itself. As a mom, I’m so grateful for the “requirement” to take a few minutes every week to be quiet, be still, and just enjoy the moment I’m in. I love sitting in the semi-darkness listening to my children sing, drawing my little family close for just a few minutes of (hopefully) harmony without worrying about shopping, cooking, cleaning or writing.
So this season I encourage you to take a “forced pause,” and try a new family tradition.
Advent wreaths come in many shapes and sizes, from traditional to ultra-modern. The only requirement is that an advent wreath must have four (sometimes five) candles. On First Advent (the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day) you light one candle, on 2nd Advent two, etc. Unlike Hanukkah you do not replace the candles with new ones each time, so you should end up with candles in a variety of heights by Christmas Eve, when you light the (optional) fifth candle. The fifth candle is often a different color from the other four.
In our family, we always recite the traditional Advent poem in German and in English. You can try just the English if you want, but my kids love listening to their Dad mangle the German version. One year we even translated it into (really bad) Chinese.
One fun tradition we’ve added over the years is listening for the Christ Child’s knock at the door on the final evening of Advent. (This is sometimes supplied by an obliging, and sneaky, uncle or aunt.) The little ones love running to the door to find nobody there.
Advent can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Some weeks we pull out all the musical instruments (and that’s a lot at our house), invite our friends over and make it a concert/jam session. Other times Advent is sandwiched in between homework, parties and practicing. At least once each year we have a special Advent meal of traditional Austrian Schnitzel and Knudel to get us in the holiday mood. And we always listen to our favorite Austrian Christmas album, Christmas in the Alps.
So try your own variations! Make Advent your own with whatever works for your family.
Looking for some great Christmas reads and listens to make your International Christmas complete? These are some of our favorites.
And there are lots of great ideas on our Pinterest Page.