Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, and lasts until Christmas Eve (The start date and duration is different for those in Eastern Orthodox churches). In 2008, the Advent Sundays are November 30, December 7, December 14, and December 21. In 2009, they'll be November 29, December 6, December 13, and December 20.
The word advent means “coming,” and that is what we consider during the Advent season. We light a series of candles in an Advent wreath, pray, read from the Bible, and talk about what we’re to consider each week. We start by remembering that God’s people once waited for the Messiah, whom we believe was born on Christmas Day. We, too, look forward to the advent of that same Messiah, whom we believe will one day return. We continue each week developing that theme, with different readings and different “assignments” for the week. There are excellent web resources for Advent, though we have also relied on a simple book called Family Nights for Advent and Christmas.
Setting aside some time on Sunday afternoons is easy for us. What’s more difficult is spending time together every night, but we try, with a daily chapter from Tabitha’s Travels. Of course, sometimes that means three chapters to make up for missed days!
Each year, Halloween seems to mark the point at which life shifts into a different gear. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day — it’ already so much! What room is there for yet another holiday this time of year?
Advent doesn’t require giving gifts, and doesn’t rely on any “things” other than a Bible and, optionally, candles and a wreath. Advent doesn’t depend on the stock market or your mortgage. Advent doesn’t require any changes to your other holiday traditions, other than setting aside a short time once a week. Still, we’ve found that taking that time, and changing our focus, even briefly, helps us to avoid some of the excesses of consumerism — but not all!