They seem to come earlier, faster, and busier every year.
For most Americans, the holidays kick off with Thanksgiving in late November, ramp up for Christmas, and culminate with new year’s celebrations on January 1.
Christmas dominates this season, fueled by the insatiable economics of consumption. Holiday ad blitzes. Black Friday deals. Overcrowded malls.
There are the traditions to keep, too. The tree needs putting up. The house needs decorating. There are parties to throw, treats to bake, carols to practice. Add in the stresses of family, especially extended family, and it’s no wonder many feel overwhelmed at this time of year.
As Christians, we aren’t immune to the rampant commercialism and busied distractions of the season. But Christmas should hold much deeper meaning for us. We celebrate the coming of a Savior and the promise that He will someday return, redeem His people, and repair the brokenness of our world.
For Christians the holidays are truly holy days. Yet how quickly we lose sight of this. How easily we are drawn away by the secular glitz and glamour of the season.
It shouldn't be this way.
The Church Calendar
For hundreds of years, Christians have marked time intentionally — not by whatever happens to be going on around them, but by centering their calendar on Christ. Through time, the church has observed an annual cycle called the Church Calendar or Christian Year. The seasons of the Calendar correspond to key events in the life of Christ: His birth, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. (Learn more at our Church Calendar page.)
The Church Calendar was developed as a way to aid the spiritual formation of believers, imparting a sacred rhythm to our time and activities. As the seasons of the Christian Year orient our hearts toward Christ, we're reminded that we live in what Dallas Willard called a "God-bathed world." The whole earth is full of God's glory. Even our Calendar is holy.
We often call the late-November-to-early-January time period simply “the holidays.” But the church for centuries has observed two distinct holy seasons during this time: Advent and Christmas.
Advent and Christmas
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues through Christmas Eve. Christmas, of course, begins on December 25, but it doesn't end there. The period called Christmastide continues for twelve days and ends on January 5. It gives way to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which celebrates the Magi’s visit to the Christ child.
Advent is a season of preparation, Christmas is a season of celebration.
Advent is a time of expectancy, hope, and repentance, a season when we look ahead to Christ’s Second Coming even as we prepare to celebrate His birth two thousand years ago.
Christmas is a time of merriment and joy, when we give gifts, play games, sing carols, eat together, and rejoice that our Redeemer has come and will come again.
Each of these seasons is marked in its own way, and each has its own set of practices. Some of the traditions are serious, even somber. Some are just plain fun. All are designed to imbue our time and activity with sacred meaning, to remind us of the deeper significance of the seasons and point us to Christ.
Advent is a season of preparation,
Christmas is a season of celebration.
Catholics and mainline Protestants are familiar with Advent and Christmas and the traditions around them. But for many evangelicals, Advent may be unfamiliar territory, and the “twelve days of Christmas” are something they’ve heard about only in a song.
At KeepingAdvent.com, we invite all Christians, whatever your denominational background, to rediscover these holy seasons.
We designed this site especially for those Christians new to observing Advent and Christmas. We hope it's a resource — a field guide of sorts — to help you, your family, and your church journey through these seasons with Christ-centered expectancy and joy, as Christians have done through the centuries.