I love Advent. It is my absolute favourite time of year. I love all the seasons for their unique gifts, but Advent is a very special time in our home and we all feel it.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is traditionally a time in which we prepare for Christmas; for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day. In these commercial times, it is easy to get carried away; arranging far too many outings, trying to spend time with as many friends as possible before Christmas (as if time were finite and Christmas were the deadline!) People spend large quantities of money on presents and parties and take on too much at a time when we are naturally getting tired, so illness can strike if we don’t look after ourselves.
I am not immune to all this. I often take on too many projects in the hope that I will finish them in time for Christmas and we are sometimes out of the house more than we are in it, but over the years, I have realised that rushing around causes tension and that I need to make enough space for the “out breaths” and inner work that this season requires. I like to write Christmas letters as I mentioned here and I spend many happy hours doing this in the first couple of weeks in December; writing to friends abroad or people I seldom see, but think of fondly. It is time well spent; time with dear friends is always time well spent 🙂 I usually go out to cafe’s or if I am at home, I play some Christmas music to put me in a festive mood for writing.
My preparations for Advent start a couple of weeks before, when I get my Advent box out of the eaves and review ideas from years gone by. This booklet by Annette Frontz was given to me by lovely friend some years ago. It has been a wonderful resource for Advent ideas and there is a section on inner work too. I also enjoy reading the Advent and Christmas section in All Year Round and Festivals, Family and Food and many of the ideas for the rituals I will mention have come from these wonderful resources. I also have a big brown leatherbound book in which I have written all our seasonal traditions to remind me of the lovely things we do.
I try to create a very quiet mood at the beginning of Advent. The Nature table is quiet, with a dark blue cloth on it and very little is happening. I lay a star path of 24 golden (paper) stars leading to the stable with a larger golden star holding an Advent Candle for each Advent Sunday. Very little else is occurring and it feels good to have a moment of quiet; an outbreath after the riot of colour and activity in the autumn and before the bright lights of Christmas.
The candle holders are made out of gold card. I drew an X in the middle and cut along the lines. Then I pushed each of the four sides out from the middle and the candle sits snugly inside. It works surprisingly well.
We have a variety of ways in which we mark the days of Advent. We started with just a couple of rituals when the children were small, but things have been added over the years. I would recommend you don’t take anything on that you can’t manage from year to year, as the children will expect it and be disappointed if you don’t continue that particular tradition. Our own family rituals are as follows:
* We hang a blue silk ribbon with 24 golden sequin stars glued to it and one big golden star right at the top. A little felt angel that I made many years ago climbs one star at a time all the way up to Christmas day. When my children were young, this was an excellent way to see how close we were getting to Christmas. Our angel is a little worn and I have considered making another, but we are still so fond of her I probably never will 🙂
* We stick one golden star sticker each day on the dark blue sky that is the background to our nature table. By Christmas the sky is full of stars and it looks so beautiful and full of light.
* We have a fabric Advent Calendar with little pockets on it, that I sewed (in kit form) a few years ago. Elves come in the night of the 30th November/1st December and leave an ornament in each pocket for my daughters to find in the morning. We also leave a letter to Father Christmas by the fireplace that night for the elves to take to him. This is the start of the Christmas magic for them. My daughters take it in turns to hang a little ornament on the bare branches hanging above the stable on our nature table. By Christmas it is full and joyful.
* My daughters each have one of these beautiful Advent Calendars that we bought in our school shop. They last several years (with a bit of help from blu tack) and are just gorgeous!
Those are our morning rituals. The children take it in turns to do the various things and again in the evening. They are very good at being fair about it, as there is certainly plenty for them to do!
* For a couple of years we have also opened an electronic Advent Calendar every afternoon after school, something my daughters really look forward to. It was gifted to us by a lovely member of our school community, who sadly passed away recently. This year and from now on, I will treat her grandchildren to one, to repay her kindness and generosity. Although my children are rarely exposed to the computer, I decided that this was o.k, as it is really very beautiful and traditional.
* In the evening we move our felt Mary along the star path on the Nature table. We darken the room and light the Advent candles for that week (one for the first week of Advent, two for the second etc) and sing this song with reverence as one of the children moves Mary forward one star.
” On the Golden Star Path walking
Mother Mary travels Far
Brings to Us the Light of Heaven
Brighter than the Brightest Star “
* For our evening ritual, we choose a Christmas book by a process of Lucky Dip – I have written all the titles of our books down on red and green paper and my daughters take it in turn picking a book at random. We sit downstairs by the fire on warm sheepskins and read the story together and often sing carols ( if there is time). My daughters are already looking forward to this and we had a little practise the other day! 🙂
* We light our Advent wreath candles at every mealtime and sing this verse:
” Winter is dark, yet each tiny spark, brightens the way to Christmas Day “
The First Sunday of Advent has just passed. Our family always has a wreath on the table with four red candles in it, as is traditional in Germany and Scandinavian countries I believe and also in Steiner Waldorf schools. We light one candle for every week and by Christmas there are four candles lit on the wreath and a mood of celebration.
I had planned to make my own wreath in time for Sunday and even purchased some florist foam and went out for a walk with my daughters, but our local park didn’t have any suitable evergreens and time was too tight to go further afield this year, so we are making do with an artificial wreath this year ( I always have it as a back up). The artificial wreaths these days are quite realistic I find and I have decorated it with some little toadstools, berries and cinnamon sticks as my German grandmother always did. Some of the decorations belonged to her and I am always so happy to see them as they remind me of the wonderful Christmases I spent with my grandparents. I would have loved to have made my own, but I must remind myself not to let perfection be the enemy of the good. This is more than good enough. 🙂
Each week of Advent we can use the following themes from Rudolph Steiner to give the week a focus:
The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
Stones that live in crystals, seashells and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts,
All await the birth, from the greatest to the least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind,
The light of hope, that we may learn to love and understand.
I use these themes in all kinds of ways, but especially on the Nature Table. Objects are added overnight by the ‘elves’ for my daughters to find in the morning. They never cease to delight in this, especially as the elves also add things to their own nature tables in their rooms.
- In the first week : stones, golden shells, crystals and rocks are added to the Nature table
- In the second week : greenery, little toadstools, golden nuts, pinecones and such like are added to the Nature Table.
- In the third week : Mary’s donkey arrives to travel the path with her and little clay hedgehogs, felt mice, wooly sheep and a few animals in the stable are added to the Nature Table.
- In the fourth week: Joseph arrives and the innkepeer, the shepherds and some angels. If it is a long week, some gnomes may join the crystals.
This is a wonderful ritual, full of the magic of the season and the Nature table becomes so full of life by Christmas. If you choose to take on this ritual, do try to keep it up every evening throughout Advent, as the children will notice if the elves aren’t bringing things and could be disappointed. Saying that, sometimes our elves have been known not to come!!…but then add two things the next day. So once again, let us not let perfection be the enemy of the good!
Wow! Writing all this really makes me realise how many rituals and traditions we have surrounding Advent. As I mentioned, it is my favourite time of year! Most of these rituals don’t cost anything, just a bit of foresight. I am very conscious that my daughters will one day outgrow them, so I cherish every year as if it were the last. I very much hope we will continue to have these special times for many more years.
In our Steiner (Waldorf) school, the Kindergartens celebrate Advent with an Advent Spiral in the first week of Advent. The children and parents are all dressed in dark blue to echo the quiet mood of this festival. An inwardly spiralling path of evergreens is laid on the floor, leading to a tree stump with a large central candle on it, which is looked after by ‘Mother Mary’. Each child is given a shiny red apple with a golden candle in it by their teacher and in the semi darkness, they walk the spiral path to the centre to light their candle (this represents their journey to birth). When the candle is lit, they walk back out of the spiral and place their apple along the path in a place of their choosing (this represents their journey from birth and their free will). By the time all the children have placed their candles on the spiral path safely, the room is much brighter and there is a feeling of light and hope. The teachers, parents and children sing many beautiful songs (including my favourite The Angel Gabriel) throughout the ceremony to create a mood of reflection and reverence. Last year was my final opportunity to attend this festival with my daughters after seven years. I will miss it.
My daughters are both in the school now and will attend an Advent assembly in the main hall every Monday. The children are also dressed in dark blue and the hall is darkened to reflect the mood of Advent; one of expectation. A child from each class is chosen to bring their clay candle holder (which they made last week) to the assembly. As the assembly draws to a close, each of these children lights their candle from an Advent Wreath and carefully takes their light back to their classroom. That child then lights his/her neighbours candle and the neighbour lights his/her neighbours candle and so the light is passed all the way around the class until all the candles are lit and the children sing their Advent songs. This feels so special and wholesome to me. My youngest was very appreciative of all these touches particularly.
I plan to share more about Advent and our weekly rituals here in the weeks to come and will hopefully share a Christmas book list at some point too. It would have been more helpful earlier in the season, but there is always next year 😉
Wishing you all a peaceful Advent.