The History and Meaning of Advent

I have no memories of celebrating Advent as a child. We did celebrate Christmas every year, and I’ve always loved it—the frosty air, sparkling lights, festive music, sugary treats, and alluring presents tucked under the Christmas tree. Christmas meant time with family, a musical at church, and a powerful sense of anticipation. I remember the escalating excitement as Christmas Day approached—but then, once the presents were opened, the magic burst, leaving behind a strange emptiness and lingering disappointment. The cycle repeated each year. By the time I had small children of my own, I decided to search for what was missing.

Even as a child, I knew Christmas was really about celebrating Jesus’ birth. But it’s hard to keep that fact in the forefront during the whirlwind of activities and distractions. I wanted to create a new tradition—a way for our family to briefly hit the brakes each day of Advent and dig deeply into the meaning behind the holiday. It was important that we explore not only the fact that Jesus came but also the reason His arrival still mattered.

What is Advent?

Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and is a season of expectation and hope. Believers across the world spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for that day of beauty and light. The first mention of Advent occurred at a meeting of church leaders in Spain in AD 380. The Council of Saragossa encouraged people to attend church daily for twenty-one days starting in mid-December. Advent eventually developed into a season that stretched across the month of December. Traditions vary by country, but Advent is celebrated all over the world.

  • In Eastern Orthodox churches, believers participate in a Nativity Fast that begins November 15 and ends December 24. During the fast, they abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil.
  • In Germany, Christians set four candles in an evergreen wreath. Each Sunday preceding Christmas, they light another candle while singing Christmas songs.
  • In China, families put up a “tree of light” and decorate it with lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains. Some give apples on Christmas Eve because the Chinese word for “apple” sounds similar to the word for “peace.”
  • In the Philippines, people attend nine different early-morning masses, with the final mass occurring on Christmas Day. They decorate a bamboo pole with a lit “lantern” that represents the star followed by the wise men.
  • In Costa Rica, families decorate their houses with tropical flowers and set up a nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, everyone dresses up and goes to midnight Mass.
  • In Anglican churches throughout various countries around the world, a new candle is lit each Sunday before Christmas while Scripture and prayers are read from the Book of Common Prayer. The sanctuary is decorated in blue or purple. For them, Advent marks the beginning of the church year.

Celebrating Advent means joining countless Christians across the world—and through the centuries—to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Advent enriches Christmas by allowing time to reflect and remember. Without Christ, both people and our world are full of darkness, but the Light has come. Advent reminds us that Jesus will come again to defeat sin and death forever.

Advent Resources for Families

When I began searching for Advent resources, I had two small children. We didn’t attend a liturgical church at the time, so I had no firsthand knowledge of the church calendar or practices. I looked on Amazon and found a book that I hoped would be engaging for children. We tried to read through that book, but I found myself drastically editing the text each day. I really needed something that was clear and simple, focused on Jesus and grace, easily understood by little ones, and historically accurate.

As December approached the following year, I struggled to answer this question: Why did Jesus come? I needed to answer this myself before I could explain it to my kids.

That year, I decided to write my own Advent book for our family. I wanted to start with Creation and journey through the Old Testament. As I worked in that ancient text, I realized a central message it conveyed: Jesus, the Promised Son, came to rescue us and make all things good and new again. He is the Son promised by God who would crush evil and death, restoring all that was lost when Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lies and disobeyed God. The patriarchs, prophets, kings, and Jewish people all longed for the day when the Messiah would come to make things right. They guarded this promise and hope through countless dark centuries.

And then, in the fullness of time, He came!

That December, we read through the stories, and my children loved our time together. It was special to sit down as a family and think through the history behind Jesus’ arrival.

The following year, I felt like God wanted me to publish the book. Through a series of events only God could orchestrate, The Advent Storybook: 25 Bible Stories Showing Why Jesus Came was published this year by David C Cook and made available to families across the world. Amazingly, The Advent Storybookand The Easter Storybook, its sequel, are now also available in Korean, Slovak, and German!

Many families combine The Advent Storybook with Advent calendars involving chocolate or other fun activities. At, printable ornaments that accompany each story are available for free. In addition to reading The Advent Storybook and utilizing the matching coloring book, our family enjoys lighting candles and opening a group gift on the Sundays of Advent.

In recent years, many families have shown a growing interest in celebrating seasons like Advent. I think we’re all longing for meaning and connection in a world fragmented by evil, pain, and death. Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to connect this longing with the truth of our beautiful Rescuer. Jesus came to restore and redeem what we lost so long ago: our close friendship with God, with others, and with all of Creation. There is more to Christmas—and Advent helps us remember the hope we have in Jesus.

On the first Christmas, Jesus came in the flesh to launch His good Kingdom—but that’s not the end of the story. We, too, wait in hope. Jesus will come again to implement His kingdom in full, gifting us with a perfectly renewed heaven and earth, where we will be with God again. Sin and death will be defeated by the returning King.

This Advent, gather your family and friends together and remember the hope we possess: one day, He will wipe away all our tears and bring us back home to Him.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.… “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:1a, 3.

Laura Richie is a wife, homeschooling mom, and registered nurse. A missionary kid for several years, Laura confesses she didn’t truly understand her need to be rescued until later in life. Now she delights
in sharing the beauty and grace of her Rescuer through her books, The Advent Storybook and The Easter Storybook. Laura resides in Oklahoma with her husband and four children.

“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.”