Our family began celebrating Advent in an intentional way a few years ago. We mark each week of this anticipatory season by creating a table that progresses through the four kingdoms as seen in the Waldorf tradition: the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom and finally, the kingdom of the human being. At dinner on Sunday night, we add specific items to our Advent table, light a candle and recite a verse or a poem that corresponds with the upcoming week’s theme. I keep these rituals short, reverent and interactive.
Advent has become an established part of our yearly rhythm. When we first came to Waldorf, however, Advent fell right on top of Thanksgiving (like it does this year) and I remember being overwhelmed, but just wanting to do something. That first year, we gathered around a flat paper wreath and four tea light candles. I read the traditional Waldorf Advent verses (that I hastily printed right about the time everyone was around the table and hungry!) and we lit one of the candles. It was a beginning but honestly, no less meaningful than what we do now. The symbols that decorate the Advent table are lovely and evocative, but for me, it is more about taking time to pause, reflect and honor this holy season of anticipation.
First Week of Advent, December 1 – December 7: Rocks and Minerals
I begin preparing for Advent the Saturday before, which this year is November 30 – the Saturday after Thanksgiving! I clear off a long marble shelf we have in the kitchen and leave it absolutely empty for 24 hours. For some reason, Advent is the only time this shelf is free of clutter, and I see this as a bit of a Christmas miracle. That first Sunday night, we celebrate the minerals of the earth by sprinkling the shelf with seashells, river rocks, sea glass, and gemstones. We light one of the four new candles that will grace the center of our kitchen table for the next month.
Second Week of Advent, December 8 – December 14: Plants
The second Sunday of Advent brings in the greenery. Usually, we go for a walk as a family and collect a variety of evergreens from around our property. Last year I attached some evergreens to a wire hanger and made a wreath for our candles. This stayed pretty until Christmas, and it was free! I always think it would be meaningful to set up the Christmas tree during this week – especially if it stayed bare. We have two birthdays in December and never find the time to buy our tree until later in the month. Decorating with poinsettias, holly, stringing popcorn and cranberries and/or forcing amaryllis, paperwhites or narcissus bulbs are other ways to celebrate plants this week.
Third Week of Advent, December 15 – December 21: Animals
The third Sunday of Advent finds the animals from our many nativity collections making their way to the shelf. Donkeys, sheep and cows are traditional and we also add any animals we may have created during our main lesson time. This year there will be a knitted sheep and also a menagerie of beeswax animals. Making gifts for the birds and squirrels, making homemade dog treats or a cat toy would be a fun way to celebrate the animals in and around your house. Many people hold Advent/Solstice spirals during this week. We have never done this, but I think it would be wonderful to lay out a spiral with evergreen boughs and carry candles in hollowed out apples. A simple yet rich example of holding our own inner light as the earth darkens.
Fourth Week of Advent, December 22 – December 25: Human Beings
The fourth week of Advent brings Christmas and a celebration of the human family. We bring out all the figures at once: shepherds, kings and Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. At this point in the season, there are a lot of things on the Advent table. In order to keep everything neat and uncluttered, I put the rocks, glass and seashells in glass jars to display in the background, move the greenery to the periphery and have the animals surround the Holy Family which graces the center of the table.
Links and Resources:
- Carrie at The Parenting Passageway has many posts about celebrating Advent.
- Borbala created the felted nativity figures featured in this post, and honestly my photos don’t do her work justice.
- These are my favorite candles. I buy them by the dozen and use them year round.
- Dionne has a great evergreen wreath tutorial.
- Here are two of my reflections from last year: stones, plants. I hope to add more this year.
- The Festival of Stones by Reg Down is a wonderful book that will take you from Michaelmas and Martinmas through Advent and Christmas. I am planning on reading it to my boys on Mondays during Advent.
Waldorf/Steiner Verses for Advent:
The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower, and fruit by whom we live and grow.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air, and seas.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.