It’s hard to believe that the holidays are here, yet I say that every single year, so I’m convinced now that this is just how it works: time flies; the holidays show up on our doorsteps when we’re not looking. Rinse and repeat.

But one thing slightly different this year is Advent’s potential to actually sneak up on us — at least for Americans. Because Thanksgiving falls so late in November, Advent is often the Sunday just after our turkey day.

It officially begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. For four weeks, we prepare inwardly and outwardly for the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, which kicks off the Christmastide season.

If you’ve read AoS for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of Advent. This quiet, humble season gives us permission to ease into Christmas, reflect on our soul’s postures, and lean into the paradoxical feeling of already/not yet woven into the anticipation of Christmas.

I love Advent. I also love keeping it simple, and it took me years to land on a method for celebrating it in our family without going bonkers. So many books, devotionals, and guides ask for too much prep and too much time for a typical family’s schedule. We needed something open-and-go, with almost zero prep work, and that provided freedom to skip a day, or two, or a week if need be. We could then pick it back up and never “be behind.”

This is why I wrote my family’s simple Advent guide — because I couldn’t find anything else that worked for us. And the past two years, I’ve shared it with you, and you’ve told me how much you loved it. I’m so happy to hear.

This leads me to some happy news… my Advent guide is now a fully fleshed-out book called Shadow & Light: A Journey Into Advent, in partnership with Harvest House Publishers. It’s hardback-bound, full color, and gorgeous, including art from one of my favorite artists, Connie Gabbert. Based on the Daily Office Lectionary found in the beloved Book of Common Prayer, Shadow & Light walks through the poetry of the Psalms as our daily prayer guide through Advent.

I also share daily short essays of my own thoughts, along with music and both historic and modern art reflecting the introspection of the Advent season. I love it so much, I’m so proud of it, and I'm eager to share it with you.

christ of the breadlines by fritz eichenberg
Christ of the Breadlines (1930s), by Fritz Eichenberg

Which leads me to the less-than-great news about the book… Shadow & Light won’t be available until next Advent, in 2020. I KNOW. These sorts of books — full-color, illustrated — take a considerably long time to make, so, unfortunately, it’s still being crafted for you.

BUT. Harvest House is doing something unheard of so early in the publishing process: they’ve allowed me to share with you Week One of Shadow & Light completely free! It’s still in the editing process, so with this sneak peek, you’re getting to see the rough, in-process look behind the scenes as this book moves toward completion.

Head here to check it out. I hope you find it just the thing you need for your season!

Our family makes simple beeswax Advent candles with this kit, and then we use a firewood log drilled with holes as our “wreath.” I love keeping things local, natural, and inexpensive for Advent.

Starting with the first candle on Week One, we read the day’s entry, listen to the song, look at the artwork chosen for the day, then pray the Psalm. Done.

We light only the first candle during the first week, then the first and second candles during the second week, and so on. By Christmas morning, we light all five candles — the four Advent candles and the Christmas Day candle.

Shadow & Light also includes two extra entries for St. Nicholas and St. Lucia Days, which happen to occur during Advent, so we’ll do those on December 6 and 13, respectively.

Again, Advent lasts through the four Sundays before Christmas, then Christmastide is twelve full days (you know the song), from December 25-January 5. Epiphany follows the next day, on January 6. Epiphanytide continues in the spirit of the Christmas season until February 2, Candlemas. Some traditions even recognize the Epiphany season through Ash Wednesday.

If all this is gobbledygook to you, I get it. I wasn’t raised in any sort of tradition that recognized the global, ancient liturgical Church calendar, and it’s only been the past five or so years that we’ve included it as part of our family’s holiday tradition.

But it’s such a blessing to us now, and it’s my favorite way to recognize the historic season so often co-opted by modern commercialism. It’s genuinely fun.

If you’d like to give all this a whirl, or if you’re already a fan of Advent yet wish your options out there weren’t so involved, get your copy of Shadow & Light. I’d love to hear what you think.

• Listen to the podcast episode about this post.