Advent once looked very different to how many of us spend it today. Far from being a whirlwind of frantic shopping, social engagements and festivity, Advent was traditionally a time of simplicity in the lead up to Christmas.
What are the origins of Advent?
The word Advent comes from the Latin for ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’, as it was the period of anticipating Jesus’ arrival on Earth. Christians would spend the weeks leading up to Christmas in a time of fasting and prayer.
Nowadays, it’s more common to spend Advent consuming chocolates from a calendar, opening up the mince pies early, and deciding how many parties, nativity plays and carol services to attend.
Can we do Advent differently this year?
But are we missing out on something by no longer having that stark contrast between the simplicity and reflection of Advent, and the joyous celebration of Christmas? Could a different kind of Advent help us fight back against the encouragement to make Christmas all about consuming as much as possible (whether food, presents, mulled wine or entertainment)?
We’ve come up with one alternative, and you’re invited to join in! Why not take on 24 small acts of generosity this December, as a reminder that Christmas is not meant to pile on pressure to spend beyond our means or forget about those who might be struggling this year? Sometimes, the simplest actions are the most meaningful.
So here it is, our alternative Advent Calendar! Follow these ideas in the countdown to Christmas or make up your own, and let us know on social media how you’re observing Advent this year.
1. Buy one extra item in your weekly shop and donate it to your local Foodbank.
2. Write a Christmas card to someone you’ve not seen in a while, to let them know you’re thinking of them.
3. Invite someone to come with you to your church’s carol service.
4. Donate the cost of a coffee to a charity.
5. Buying mince pies or chocolate coins? Put an extra box in your shopping basket and give it away to someone who needs cheering up
6. Use your lunchbreak to write an encouraging note to someone and leave it where they’ll find it.
7. Have a pre-Christmas clear out at home and see if there are any warm winter clothes you can donate. Homeless shelters are often looking for coats, hats and gloves at this time of year.
8. Think about how you can volunteer your time. Does the local hospice need carol singers for fundraising this year? Does your foodbank need extra pairs of hands to help out?
9. Be generous in your thoughts as well. Resolve today to give everyone the benefit of the doubt if they seem stressed or grumpy in the lead up to Christmas.
10. Pray for someone today.
11. Do you love Christmas baking? Make something specifically to share with others.
12. Be generous with your time. Take a day to deliberately slow down and connect with people. Switch off your phone if it helps you to listen without getting distracted.
13. Offer to help someone with chores – clean their house with them or accompany them on errands
14. Pay it forward. If you’re at a coffee shop, or paying for parking, can you leave enough to pay for the next person in the queue too?
15. Help an elderly neighbour or relative to put up their Christmas decorations.
16. If you’re out Christmas shopping today, offer to help someone struggling with lots of heavy bags.
17. Offer to help out at a church event or volunteer at your local school’s Christmas fair.
18. Is there a family you can offer to babysit for, so some busy parents can enjoy a couple of hours’ free time?
19. If you have a loyalty card at your local coffee shop, why not give away your free drink once you’ve filled up all the stamps? It’s a great feeling and costs nothing to give your loyalty card to someone and tell them ‘have a coffee on me’.
20. Be intentional about who you support with your Christmas shopping. Can you buy this years’ cards from a charity shop or a small business, so that your money makes a difference?
21. Encourage someone today through a compliment or praising something they’ve done well.
22. Carry a spare umbrella to give away to someone next time it rains.
23. Let someone go ahead of you in the queue.
24. Put an extra seat at the table for Christmas dinner and invite someone who’d otherwise be spending the day alone.