It was 5:00 pm this past Sunday evening, and our home was filled with the delicious aroma of chicken taco soup, simmering away in both crockpots on my kitchen counter.

We had apple cider ready to heat up and a jug of eggnog in the fridge.  Our Advent wreath graced the center of our large circular dining table, complete with four candles yet to be lit.

It was our first Advent Gathering of the year, and the anticipation was thick in the air.  We had no idea whether to expect five people or 25.

We love Advent, but it can be such a busy, fleeting time of year, ripe with all the craziness that the holiday season brings. And so, a few years ago, we started looking for ways that our family could observe the Advent season in a more intentional manner.

We also love offering hospitality and opening our home to both friends and strangers – and so an annual tradition was born.

We’ve hosted Advent Gatherings for a few years now, and though they look different every time, there are a few elements that remain the same.  We make two giant pots of soup or stew – something simple and hearty – and we provide a few beverages.  We ask the people that are coming to bring everything else: finger foods, appetizers, wine, desserts.

We set a start time of 5:00pm, but people show up gradually.  Many of them are families just like us, with small children, and getting anywhere on time is a challenge.  So we wait and we mingle and we laugh, and we anticipate.

Eventually we all gather together around the Advent wreath, and my husband passes out the handouts for the evening.  We’re no experts, but we’ve raided the interwebs and cobbled together a sort of liturgy that includes a reading from the Bible, an Advent hymn, and a prayer.  At some point we light the candle in the wreath, and we sing together, and we pray, and we anticipate.

This year for the first time, we’re also offering simple winter crafts for the children.  We love and value each child that comes to our Advent Gatherings, and we want them to feel that they are not simply tagging along with their parents, but that there is something here that is just for them.

A simple craft seemed like an easy yet meaningful way to let them know that they are important.  We hope that eventually, the children will come to love these gatherings as much as we do, and that Advent will become a season that they greatly anticipate, too.

Advent Gatherings happen in our home each Sunday evening of the Advent season.  Although there are moments that I have second thoughts about all the effort and work that goes into these gatherings, the truth is that I love them so very much.

I love sharing a meal with friends.  I love opening our home and our hearts to people, and sharing our lives with others, and making space for others to do the same.  I love gathering around the Advent wreath together, and meditating on the coming of a little baby that was born some 2000 years ago, and what that might mean for us today.  Observing Advent means living in anticipation, and what better way to anticipate than through life in community?

Do you have any unique or atypical Advent traditions?