On December 1st, millions of children (and adults) will be looking forward to opening the first window of their Advent calendars in anticipation of the tiny chocolate treat that awaits. You may have a more extravagant calendar awaiting you with candles, cheese, beer, skincare products, or even jewelry behind every door – a few years ago, I shared an M&S skincare/make-up calendar with my younger daughter and it was great fun trying new products. Over recent years, the Advent calendar itself has become a significant gift in its own right and often continues right past Christmas into the New Year.
My first memories of Advent calendars are just as exciting but they had no gift, chocolate or otherwise, behind the door. Instead, each door revealed a picture depicting a scene of the nativity. I shared one with my three siblings. We were so excited when it was our turn to open the window! As the eldest, I worked out quite early on that if I let my younger siblings open the doors first, I would get to open the bigger Christmas Eve door on the 24th! We reused the same Advent calendar for a number of years.
Advent doesn’t actually start on December 1st but on the fourth Sunday before Christmas – which is the 28th of November this year. Advent Sunday will be celebrated by Christians around the world and the first purple candle on the Advent wreath will be lit. It signifies a time of preparation for Jesus’s coming – both in the past and his second coming in the future. Traditionally, it is a time of reflection, prayer, and fasting – light years away from what it has become now!
As I was out shopping earlier this week, it was clear that the Christmas frenzy has begun in earnest! The shops are already busy with people buying presents and supplies for the festive holidays. We are being urged to ‘plan for Christmas’. Last year, I attended an event where we were given an exceedingly long list of things we needed to do in the run-up to Christmas Day. I was shattered just listening to it! Getting my Christmas playlist sorted, visiting Santa, buying matching Christmas Day PJs for the family (sorry, no!), ordering the meat… the list went on and on and I’m sure most of us would also be broke if we had adhered to it. And yet, in a 20-minute talk, not once was the true meaning of Christmas mentioned. Not even a carol service or helping others…
It all just seemed rather self-centred to me and I know I’m guilty of being caught up with it too. Yet it saddens me that the focus of Christmas only appears to be on our immediate friends and families. Christmas is a time for giving but we can be extremely selfish and unaware of others going through hardship at the same time.
Having said that, this year, I’ve noticed a number of retailers are offering customers the chance to contribute to projects. Last week, my local Tesco asked if I would pay for a tin of soup to go to a local foodbank – it cost me just 31p! The British Heart Foundation asked if I would be prepared to add a £1 donation to my purchase – I love a good charity shop! I do find it a little embarrassing but I’ve not experienced any hard sell. If you don’t want to contribute, that’s fine. However, because my natural selfish instinct is to say no, I’ve made a resolution that I will engage with these little charitable acts when asked this year.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, why not be intentional about taking the opportunity to slow down this Advent, make new traditions, get rid of those that you didn’t like, and do something new instead to support others in need?
Here are a few suggestions that might help you get started:
- Support your local foodbank;
- Go for a socially distanced walk with someone on their own;
- Pack up a Christmas meal or some home made mince pies to give to someone on their own;
- Instead of posting your neighbours’ cards through the letterbox, knock on the door and have a quick chat. Check they’re OK;
- Organise some local street carol singing with mulled wine and mince pies!
If you would like to see more suggestions, click here to access an Advent Calendar I’ve prepared based on contributions from LinkedIn and Facebook connections. I hope you like it.
I would love to hear your examples of how you are sharing the Joy of Christmas with your local community or others in need.