Advent—A Countdown to Christmas

A boy stands in front of a nativity scene
FOTF/Cary Bates

The tradition of Advent has been celebrated for decades by some families. Other families may not have any idea what Advent is.

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Are you unsure about Advent? Here are common questions that people have, along with their answers:  

Why Celebrate Advent?

It felt like we had just cleared the Thanksgiving turkey from the table when our 2-year-old started asking, "When is Santa coming, Mommy?" And our 4-year-old chimed in, "How many presents am I getting?" No matter what was asked, their questions had one general theme: What's in it for me?

My heart sank. Christ was slipping away from being the focus of our Christmas season. A few weeks later, the holiday hustle and bustle ended just as quickly as it had begun, leaving behind two exhausted parents and a ton of shredded wrapping paper. I felt like nothing was gained.

My husband, Kevin, and I wanted more for our two boys. We began to ask ourselves, When our sons are grown, how will they remember Christmas? We wanted their memories to hold insights into Jesus, not a blur of insignificant toys and games.

The following autumn, we made deliberate choices about how we would celebrate the season. In the weeks before Christmas, we read the Nativity story together, talked about it and allowed our sons to play with kid-friendly figurines from a Nativity scene. Our daily devotional time was short and simple, but it worked as a countdown to Jesus' birth, and it allowed Kevin and me to be with our children and model what was important to our family. This time together became an opportunity to talk more about Jesus in our home. The change was noticeable. What used to be a time of counting down the days until presents arrived shifted to a celebration of Christ's coming.

Courtney Roberts

What Is Advent?

Advent is a call to followers of Christ to remember the birth of the Savior. The word advent stems from a Latin word that means "coming" or "arrival." The season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and, depending on the year, can range from 22 to 28 days. Its purpose is to help believers remain focused on the birth of Christ and Jesus' glorious return.

Some of the most popular commercial Advent calendars are cardboard. Each day, kids open a little door to discover a chocolate treat or another small surprise. But the Advent tradition goes deeper. Many Christian families have daily Scripture and devotional readings, along with a simple activity that helps kids remain focused on how Jesus came to earth as their Savior. Some families also use a traditional Advent wreath, lighting its candles each evening as they count down to Christmas.

The Advent season is divided into four weeks, and each week features a different liturgical theme. Traditionally, the first week remembers the hope and expectation of the Jewish people as they looked forward to the Savior's arrival — and it also reminds believers today to wait expectantly for Jesus' second coming. The second week focuses on preparation: Over many centuries, God prepared the hearts of the Jews for Christ's coming, just as He is now working in our hearts to prepare us for Christ's second coming. The third week joyfully celebrates the coming of the Messiah, and the final week celebrates God's peace and love.

Benjamin Hettick

The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath consists of evergreen branches, three purple candles, one rose candle and one large white candle. The white candle is placed in the center of the wreath, and the purple and rose candles are placed equal distances around the wreath.

Children look forward to lighting and blowing out the candles each night at dinner. A purple candle is lit the whole first week. Two purple candles are lit the second week. The two purple and one rose candle are lit the third week, and all four are lit the final week. The large white candle is lit on Christmas Day. After lighting the candles, many parents will read a few Bible verses and have a short devotional time with their kids.

Theresa Golden, a mother of three daughters, recommends keeping the wreath celebration simple and age-appropriate. "My favorite aspect of Advent is that it gives me and my family time to reorganize our thoughts about Christ's birth and why He came," she says. "It gives us the right frame of mind about Christmas and Christ."

Jenna Vandebrake

Understanding the Wreath's Symbolism

  • The first purple candle symbolizes expectation and hope.

    Purple is a royal color and signifies anticipation of the King's birth. Light this candle each week of Advent.

  • The second purple candle symbolizes preparation.

    The Jewish people prepared their hearts for the Savior, and we prepare our hearts for His second coming. Light this one during the second, third and fourth weeks.

  • The third purple candle symbolizes love and peace.

    God showed His love by sending His Son. Jesus' birth, death and resurrection bring us peace. Light this candle during the fourth week.

  • The rose candle symbolizes joy.

    We rejoice in the Messiah and joyfully anticipate Jesus' second coming. Light this candle during the third and fourth weeks.

  • The white candle in the center is celebratory.

    This candle is lit on Christmas Day. Jesus is central to the season. We celebrate His birth.

  • The evergreen branches symbolize God's faithfulness. They remain green all year.

  • The wreath circle symbolizes God's unending love.

    Sheila Seifert

This article first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Countdown to Christmas." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
"Advent the Countdown to Christmas" as a whole is copyrighted © 2017 by Focus on the Family. "Why Celebrate Advent?" is copyrighted © 2017 by Courtney Roberts. Used by permission. "What Is Advent?" "The Advent Wreath," and "Understanding the Wreath's Symbolism" is copyrighted © 2017 by Focus on the Family.

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