Celebrating Advent: Preparing our Hearts

The gift of the light we thankfully take,

 But not shall it be alone for our sake, 

The more we give light, the one to the other,

 It shines and it spreads, growing still further;

 Until every spark by friends set aflame, 

Until every heart, the joy to proclaim;

 In the depths of our souls, 

A shining sun glows. 

Advent Spiral Song

The cold weather already slows down our outside activities in the Northern Hemisphere, while the Sun warms up the air making everybody go out on the Southern. So, it is time to celebrate the Advent by preparing our hearts to receive the Christmas light.

Exactly four Sundays before Christmas, a time of wait and anticipation begins. It can last 24 to 28 days, depending on the day of the week Christmas is in that year.

Understanding the Origins

Adventus in Latin means “coming.” It is the moment of the expectation of something that is about to happen. In Christian’s religions is the coming of baby Jesus, who will later become the Christ, the Savior of humankind.

Romans before Christ considered the Winter Solstice on that date, not on the 21st, as we now understand to be the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. So, Christians in the 3rd Century adopted the date of Summer Solstice, March 25th at the time, to celebrate Jesus’ conception, as he was seen in the scriptures as the Sun (“Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.” Malachi 4:2). Ergo, precisely 9 months later, the Catholic Church defined his birthday.

Pinecone Nativity scene, celebrating Advent
A simple Nativity Scene made with natural materials.

But Roman pagans before Christ celebrated the Nativity of the Sun on that date amidst the mid-winter celebrations, which even includes a virgin goddess who gives birth to him. Coincidence? Who knows. Although, some historians say that the origin of what we know today to be Christmas, including most of the traditions, is the Yule-feast of the Norsemen and the Roman Saturnalia, two non-Christian festivals.*

Why am I telling this in a post about Advent? Well, it is essential to understand that Christmas is not connected with only one specific religion. Mostly it has, above the faith, an archetypical element: the image of a child that comes to World to bring light. And more than a real child, it is our inside light that shines outside of us when the World is in its darkest moment (considering the North of the globe).

Therefore, it is not the religious ideas, but the religiosity of the moment that must take place, mostly inside a school environment with different religious backgrounds.

So, how to celebrate Advent?

A number of different traditions can be used to celebrate Advent. From an Advent Wreath to an Advent Calendar, each of these activities may have special meanings and bring distinctive feelings and devotion to this observance period.

If you have a Christian tradition in your family, you can set up a table with a Nativity scene. You can buy one, but I highly recommend you make your own. I have mine since 2015, and it made me develop a routine to build it. I started with Mary, Joseph and the Donkey in scenery made basically with felt. Day after day, a new item or character appeared on the scene. The first week items from the mineral Kingdom, on the second, plants and flowers; the third animals and, last but not least, humans and objects made by them. And this is because I was telling every day the Russian legend of the four angels of Advent.

The Four Angels of Advent

(translated from herenotes about how to tell the story using the Advent Wreath in italic)

Advent Wreath with one candle of each colour: blue, green, yellow, and red. These colours symbolize the four kingdoms of the story: Mineral, Vegetal, Animal, and Human. You can be creative to make your Wreath: some green branches, some support for the candles and ornaments like pine cones, nutshells, shiny rocks, or any natural element that is easily found in your city.

“Long ago, men lived in the World, but they could not build houses, nor plant and care for the land. They lived in caves where it was dark, it had no light.

God then called the Angels to bring light to the four corners of the World and warn men that the Son of God would come.

The first Angel had blue wings. He went to illuminate the caves and caves with a ray of light that the Sun gave him. It was this ray of sunlight that helped the dwarves make coloured stones. This Angel brought the rain, and she washed the stones, filled the lakes, made the rivers run faster. (Now we light the blue candle. The story finishes here in the first week).

The second Angel had green wings. He left the sky very early, but as he was flying slowly, he came to earth at dusk. The ray of light this Angel brought colour and perfume to the plants. He also taught men how to plant and make the soil very soft to receive the seed. (Now we light the green candle. The story finishes here in the second week).

The third Angel had yellow wings. He went close to the Sun, and the Sun gave him a ray of his light to bring him to earth. When he was coming, the animals saw that light and were amazed. The Angel then explained that an exceptional child would be born and that everyone should prepare to receive it. The birds made beautiful songs, the butterflies coloured their wings, the fur animals talked to each other about the event, and the wind spread the news everywhere.  (Now we light the yellow candle. The story finishes here in the third week).

The fourth Angel had red wings. He wanted so much to help the men that he soon went to talk to God, didn’t expect to be called. God took a light from his throne and told the red Angel to put that light in the heart of every man, every woman, every child. Because the day of the birth of Jesus was very near. (Now we light the red candle).

This is why we still light 4 candles in the Advent wreath to remind the four angels who warned us of the arrival of the Son of God.”

Small gestures prepare our hearts

The first light of Advent is the light of stones

 The light that shines in crystals in seashells and in bones 

The second light of Advent is the light of plants

 Green plants that reach up to the light and in the breezes dance 

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts 

That shines in all creatures in greatest and in the least 

The fourth light of Advent is the human light

 The light of hope and of thought, to know and do what’s right

Advent Wreath lights

I’ve been telling this same story for the past three years, and my children are never tired of it.

Every morning, as soon as we all wake up and they discover what new thing the “angel” put on the Nativity Scene, we all sit around the Calendar, and I start to tell the story.

Celebrating Advent with a Nativity scene.
In the first week of Advent: only minerals besides the main characters. Rocks, sand, stars, lakes, clouds.
In the second week, vegetables start to show up: trees, moss, flowers, leaves, branches.
In the third, animals: chicken, cow, sheep, fishes, butterflies.
In the forth, humans and what they build: Shepards, fences, tools, bridge, the manger, and the barn where baby Jesus will be born.
Finally, on December 25th, Jesus shows up. As a mother, I don´t like to leave Jesus on the manger, so I put him on Mary´s arms.

While each candle of the Wreath is lit during the narrative, a respectful silence echoes in the living room. The young shining eyes and glowing hearts eager for this light.

After the story reaches its end, which is different in each week, we open the day task on the Advent Calendar. Each family can build its own according to their time and availability. Some put a treat inside a small bag, others some verse to read out loud, others only a star that moves each day until Christmas.

Despite my busy life, I always like to put some activities in our daily routines. It is something that inspires the Christmas spirit in the whole family. Simple tasks like “Make a cake with the family”, “Donate toys that you don’t play with any more”, “Walk around the town to see the Christmas ornaments”, “Make cards for the loved ones”, “Sing and dance Christmas songs”, “Compliment someone today” or only “Give a warm hug to someone you love.”

These small gestures usually make me focus on the meaning of this season. A simple gift amid the craziness of the busy life at the end of the year. It is an intense and rewarding experience, I can assure you.

Wonderful ideas for Advent

There are infinite ways to celebrate this time of waiting and searching on the internet I found a lot of great ideas. Check them below:

  • The Waldorf Connection: All the winter festivals – an excellent guide for beginners and experts with stories, poems, verses and activities.
  • Pinterest inspirations for Advent (by the way, follow us there clicking on the button at the end of the post).
  • Collecting the moments- A mom’s experience with an Advent wreath.

The Advent Spiral

Candle, candle, burning bright

Shining in the cold winter night

Candle, candle, burning bright

Fill our hearts with Christmas Light

Light the Advent Candle one

Now the waiting has begun

We have started on our way

Time to think of Christmas Day

Light the Advent Candle two

Think of humble shepherds who

Filled with wonder at the sight

Of the child on Christmas night

Light the Advent Candle three

Think of heavenly harmony

Angels singing “Peace on Earth”

At the Blessed Saviour’s birth

Light the Advent Candle four

Think of joy forevermore

Christ child in a stable born

Gift of love that Chrismas morn

Advent Song

There is one beautiful and meaningful act that most Waldorf Schools do. The Advent Spiral reminds us that we must go inside ourselves to bring our lights outside. In other words, this special and silent event warms our souls.

Evergreen branches forming a spiral with a candle in the middle is the symbol of the path we must endeavour to find our inner light and bring out love and peace to the World. Certainly, this quiet, simple and profound action prepares our hearts for the festivities of Christmas. Moreover, it is a reminder, a visual metaphor of what we should do daily, not only at this time of the year.

As I did not have a picture of an Advent Spiral, I inserted this picture of the Advent Wreath me and my children made this morning as the first task of the Calendar. We chose the branches and ornaments together. As I did not have at home the colourful candles, I used the white ones I had and rolled metal wires and a rattle of each colour around each candle holder to identify the weeks. It just takes some energy, creativity and a few supplies you probably have at your home.

Now you have some ideas to prepare your Advent with your family or with your class. Please share the activities you do with us. And leave a comment if you like the post telling what kind of subject inside Waldorf Education do you want to read about. Also, if you have any questions regarding Waldorf Education, go to our Forum and we are going to try to answer you as soon as possible or find someone who can.

Other sources and references about Advent and Christmas

*Christmas before Christ, Jerold Aust: it is an article from a church´s newspaper, but have some interesting quotes from historians and questionings about the beginning of the Christmas traditions.

Why Christmas: Christmas’ history, traditions and activities.

Christianity: explanations about the Advent.

Christams ornaments made withnatural materials and felt
And remember, Christmas should be about sharing moments and not buying things. So how about to spend some delightful moments with your children making some handcrafted Christmas ornaments? Try it out and let me know how it went.