The Advent Table

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Felted nativity figures by Boridolls.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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 my reflections from last year: stones, plants.
  • Click to read my poetry selections for this year: stones, plants, animals.
  • 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.

46 thoughts on “The Advent Table

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  5. Sheila, this is so lovely! Thanks for sharing your how-to’s. I have managed to be scared off from doing too much at Advent because I didn’t know “how.” (My ability to overthink things is pretty spectacular.) So I love your simple beauty here!

    • You have been on my mind lately! I would love to catch up by email, but know this is a crazy week/season. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. Love to you and yours!
      S

  6. Great post, Sheila! I’ll be using some of these ideas this Advent season, for sure.

    I love how this approach recognizes the simplest of things with the stones (love the seaglass and shells!) and plants in the beginning and the beauty in those and adds on until the whole nativity is present. There’s so much room for discussion and stories in those weeks and allows one to appreciate all there is around us, without overwhelming us with everything at once.

    • Yes, I really think it does create a concrete form around which a discussion can happen. So important when talking about ethereal concepts to little ones.
      Step by step, yes?

  7. This post is spot on for me today! Last year we stared the Advent wreath table tradition and I am just sorting out how to handle both the calendar situation and wreath situation today. Very inspiring!

    • Advent took me by “surprise” the first couple of years. Now I make sure to note it when I do my initial yearly planning. Having a week between Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season is nice, but . . . not this year!
      At least we are all in the same boat – Hanukkah too!

  8. What a wonderful post Sheila! You paint a picture of a beautiful advent celebration in your home that doesn’t “overwhelm”, but has depth and meaning. We’ve begun gathering our Advent supplies (I can smell the fresh beeswax candles as I write this!) and we look forward to the start of Advent this weekend. I’m feeling the Advent spirit! Thanks and aloha, Lori

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  10. I don’t know how I’ve escaped having any idea what the Steiner take on “Advent” is. This was very enlightening to me and I am totally surprised by the whole idea.

    • Well, I wouldn’t take this post as full-on Steiner, but more of my interpretation of the tradition in Waldorf education. Does that make sense?

      Keep me posted on your thoughts.

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  13. Wonderful post Sheila, and so inspiring! I think whenever we bring rhythm to an event we invite children into a deeper relationship with it, and your photos give a palpable sense of the rhythms of the Advent season. Thank you!

    • Oh stop!! I did not make them. Absolutely not!

      They were my big splurge/family gift last year. The link is at the bottom . . . but I think I am going to put it on the top under the angel photo.

      I was just on pintrest and seeing all your advent/st. nicholas books – can’t wait to see!

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Staying home?

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  28. Hi Sheila, just popping back to let you know we’ve been doing an advent table progression like this and the children love it! It’s been fun (and simple, which I like!) :)

    • Hey Kelly,
      That is great to hear. The boys have been in charge of our table this year and it looks really different than the photos in the post (they were from last year). It has been good to see them take ownership and really rise to the occasion. So glad your kids are liking it too.
      Happiest of holidays to you!!
      Sheila

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