If you’re like me, the beauty and deep meaning of Advent can get away from you awfully fast. One minute you’re lighting that first purple candle and singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and then whoosh! it’s January. The usual Advent wreaths and mini-chocolate calendars are tried and true practices (because hey, who doesn’t like chocolate?) and they can certainly help us focus our thoughts on the coming of the infant king. But perhaps going beyond the expected traditions could make us pause for a bit more mindfulness this season.
Here are ten unique traditions to bring more mindfulness and joy to this time of year.
1. Find an unconventional Advent calendar
Want to break away from the usual cardboard-and-chocolate affair? With a little creativity, you can easily put your own spin on an Advent countdown. If your preteens love Legos, for example, you might indulge in Lego Advent calendar. (My kids have opted for the Star Wars version this year.) Or, for the truly patient, try an Advent jigsaw. Every day adds one new piece of the puzzle. (And don’t forget, Busted Halo has a great digital Advent calendar you can bookmark on your computer!) Whatever you choose, a personal touch will help keep your kids (and you!) engaged in the sense of anticipation Advent brings.
2. Try a reverse Advent “calendar”
We just covered out-of-the-box Advent calendars, but for this one, you’ll need to think inside the box. In a so-called reverse Advent calendar, you’ll start with an empty box. Each day leading up to Christmas Eve, place an item inside for donation. This could include non-perishable food items, gently used clothing, or kids’ toys. On Christmas Eve, give the collection to a local charity or a family in need. You can even let friends and neighbors know about your project so they can get in on the giving. Not sure what items to pick? Call your local charity and ask what they need most.
3. Keep an Advent jar
Here’s another giving-back tradition: the Advent jar. Keep a change jar somewhere in your house throughout the month. Any time you have some extra coins, drop them in. Then give the haul to a cause you care about. Even kids who aren’t old enough to have an allowance can pitch in by decorating the jar with festive stickers.
4. Make Sunday a true Sabbath
There’s no better time than the hustle and bustle of Advent to make Sunday a real day of rest. Though it could seem like a tradition of doing nothing, creating a sanctuary of non-activity each Sunday can bring much-needed refreshment during the busiest time of year. Doing so is one of the greatest steps I’ve ever taken for my spiritual health. It sends me forward readier to take on the challenges each new week inevitably brings, plus helps me reflect on the week that has passed.
5. Learn something new about Advent each week
Like anything we’ve done year after year, we can easily go through the motions of many Advent traditions without really knowing much about them. Ever wonder what the “Gaudete” in Gaudete Sunday actually means? Or where the Advent wreath comes from? Identify some questions you have about the season and commit to discovering one answer each week. You’re guaranteed to enrich your understanding of this special time of year (and have something interesting to share at Christmas parties).
6. Make an Advent playlist
If you judged by the songs on the radio, you might think the Advent season is all about jingling bells, reindeer on the housetop, and being good for the man in the red suit. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating with these types of songs, but as Christians we know there’s much more to Christmas. To orient your thoughts toward the true meaning of Christmas, try putting together a list of songs that focuses on spiritual truths or the nativity story. Then, play it regularly! Personally, even hearing in passing about “glory to the newborn king” or “heavenly hosts sing alleluia” can make me pause and consider the real wonder and beauty of this season.
7. Craft a paper chain
If you have young kids at home, a colorful paper chain can be a fun visual countdown to Christmas. Simply staple together paper loops of red, white, and green (or purple and pink, for Advent) and hang the chain somewhere accessible. Let everyone in the family take turns snipping off one link each day. Even for adults, this simple craft is a helpful illustration of the coming of Christmas. (Or a helpful reminder of just how many days you have left to finish shopping!)
8. Try “Advent Angels” instead of Secret Santa
Instead of drawing names for gifts to give friends or family members, Advent Angels involves choosing a friend or family member you’ll commit to pray for or do acts of kindness for throughout the season. (Beats an ill-fitting sweater or that strongly scented body lotion any day.) This one works best with a large group of family or friends, or a church ministry.
9. Celebrate saints’ feast days throughout December
Tons of inspiring saints have their feast days in December. Get to know their stories by having mini-celebrations for St. Nicolas on December 6, St. Juan Diego on December 9, or St. Lucia on December 13. Bringing to mind their righteous lives may encourage you to think about steps you can take toward more holiness in your own life.
10. Write out the Christmas story day by day
The story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 stretches from verse 1 to verse 20. To meditate on the narrative bit by bit, try writing down one verse each day of December until Christmas Eve (with a built-in four days “off” because, let’s be honest, Advent season can get chaotic with a capital C). You can do this in a special place, like a poster hung in your kitchen or in your journal. Each day, take a few moments to ponder the verse you’ve written. By Christmas Eve, you’ll have savored the whole story of Jesus’ birth.
Originally published December 2, 2019