Let the countdown begin: Advent calendars symbolize time of anticipation
MOORHEAD, Minn. — While the retail world appears to already be counting down the days to Christmas, the liturgical season of preparing for the birth of Jesus Christ — known as Advent — has yet to begin.
Advent comes from the Latin word 'adventus' which means 'coming,' and begins the fourth Sunday before Dec. 24. Among the many traditions associated with the season of Advent, many families embrace the Advent calendar as a tool to help build anticipation for Christmas Eve.
Thanks to German Lutherans, Advent calendars have been used since the mid-1800s. The first "calendars" were actually chalk lines, pictures or candles until a printed version was produced in 1851, according to Aquinasandmore.com.
Traditional Advent calendars include a Scripture reading or reference as well as a piece of chocolate, and they offer a way for families to think about the coming of Christ, says Paul Bruan, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.
"You read Scriptures that announce his coming and learn about the true meaning of Christmas," Braun says. "Advent started as a way for Christians to anticipate the coming of Christ, not only in the form of the Christ child but also in his second coming."
David Hunstad at Old Lutheran echoes those thoughts and remembers his own family's Advent calendar when he was growing up. His store created its second version of an Advent calendar this year that features Scripture readings for each day beginning Dec. 1 as well as vinyl stickers children and families can use to build a Nativity scene, one piece at a time. Hunstad hopes the interactive nature of the calendar will encourage discussions about the birth of Jesus.
"It's a time of preparation, and the Scriptures are family-friendly," he says. "Our stuff is a talking point to get people talking about their faith ...sometimes that means acknowledging that God is part of our everyday lives."
Today, a variety of Advent calendars are available, and not all adhere to the traditional Scripture-based countdown.
Hunstad says that's OK.
"Martin Luther said he'd rather have someone in the alehouse thinking about God rather than someone in church thinking about the alehouse," he points out. Hunstad also says Luther himself enjoyed drinking beer with his fellow theologians.
"When we stigmatize something, that separates us from God," he says.
Braun explains that he believes the sacredness of the Advent calendar has been lost, and that many of the calendars available today are more of a countdown to Christmas calendar than a true Advent calendar.
Because Scripture-based or religious-based calendars might not appeal to all families, here are a few other ideas for Advent calendars to build anticipation for Dec. 24.
Books or tasks
Check out library books or purchase inexpensive books at a thrift store and wrap them individually. Pick ones with a good message (kindness, generosity, love, etc.) and have children open one each night beginning Dec. 1. As a family, talk about the topic and discuss ways children can live that message in their own lives.
Another option is having tasks or small projects assigned to each day. These can be as simple as helping someone, saying something kind or sharing a special treat, but the idea is to make the task intentional and doable.
A variety of Advent calendars contain consumable goods — which means less clutter around the house in the days leading up to Dec. 24. Choose from calendars with chocolate, candy, cookies, candles, lotions, perfumes, tea or something else. Keep in mind that these types of calendars are great for eliminating clutter but they also will require replenishment or replacement every year.
For the alcohol aficionado in the family, calendars featuring 24 days of sample-sized alcohol is a reason to celebrate. Options range from beer to wine to spirits like whiskey, vodka, gin or tequila. These calendars allow people to imbibe in small quantities and expand their alcohol horizons one day at a time.