The giant evergreen has gone up in centreville, lights are being strung across village roads, the scent of roasting chestnuts fills the air—the Christmas season in France is upon us!
Christmas proves to be a festive occasion in most European countries. Markets pop up in nearly every town. Some common sights are festively lit town centers, log cabin-themed shops selling seasonal delights, stuffed Santas on ladders hanging out of apartment windows, live nativities marching down village streets, dining rooms alight late into the night of Christmas Eve as families and friends share the réveillon de Noël meal, including a bûche de Noël cake or the famous thirteen desserts that are traditional in Provence.
Regional particularities draw locals and travelers alike, such as the santons of Provence, the window boxes at Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and the famous Alsacien markets in Strasbourg and Colmar. During the Christmas season, many people will walk through cathedrals to view nativity sets or attend Christmas Eve mass. Many view these installations in the way they may view stories from Greek mythology—tradition formative to society in the past but little more than curiosities today.
“As Christmas becomes increasingly consumer-driven, many people long to discover and experience the biblical roots of this holiday.”
During the years my wife and I have lived in Europe, we’ve noticed that people tend to be more open to talking about Jesus around Christmastime. This holiday is ripe with tradition, much of it deeply meaningful. Because traditions are often observed far better in community, we invite friends to join in with our family Advent celebration. They come knowing, even expecting, that there will be a Christ-centered set of stories and songs.
Advent as an Invitation
In our home, we decorate for Christmas on the heels of our Thanksgiving dinner, then pull out the Advent stories and Christmas carol sheets. The Advent season has become a precious time of worship in our family. We tell (and hear) the stories of God’s hand at work through history that led up to the first Christmas morning. We sing seasonal songs that traverse generations and proclaim his majesty. We try to find ways to give, to bless, to invite. And it turns out, this time of year is the perfect time to offer an invitation.
As Christmas becomes increasingly consumer-driven, many people long to discover and experience the biblical roots of the holiday. Don’t hesitate to invite people into your home as a way of sharing your culture with them. Relax and explain why Christians observe the holiday, what it means, and where the traditions come from. Clarity and truth alleviate anxiety. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).
An invitation is simple: “We’re having a traditional Advent celebration in our home tonight. We’ll sing classic Christmas songs, share some treats, and hear a story of God’s preparation for Christmas. Would you like to join?”
How to Host a Missional Family Advent Celebration
- Prepare your hearts through worship
Even before December comes around, cultivate a sense of family worship. If you are single or don’t have kids, consider gathering regularly with a few friends or small-group members for a simple time of worship in your home. This can be elaborate with songs, Bible study, and artistic expressions of worship, or as simple as reading and discussing a few verses and praying for one another.
- Reflect on stories in Scripture
Find a set of Advent-themed Bible stories to use. Our family has enjoyed the Jesse Tree Advent Devotions, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Jesus Storybook Bible, and The Biggest Story Ever Told. Determine the rhythm that best suits your family—daily, nightly, or weekly stories. In our family, we like to use stories from the creation in Genesis all the way through the Old Testament, right up to the birth of Jesus in the Gospels. We have used weekly stories from Luke and John that focus on Jesus as the expected Messiah.
- Incorporate memorable traditions
Include in the Advent gathering traditions that are meaningful to you—a Christmas carol or two, lighting Advent candles, an act of service. Consider integrating an activity into your gathering that includes aspects of another country’s Christmas traditions, and then pray for the people who live there. For example, in France we often celebrate St. Nicholas day on December 6 by giving kids chocolate coins. In our family when we give our kids chocolate coins, we also tell the story of Saint Nicholas—not Santa, but Saint Nicholas, an early Christian bishop in the Greek city of Myra in Asia Minor, who gave to those in need. If you have guests from another culture, ask them to participate by bringing a dessert or traditional Christmas activity to share.
- Give generously
You may consider packing an Operation Christmas Child box together, making cards to take to a hospital or prison, collecting toys for a toy drive, or finding a local Christmas ministry with which to volunteer. You may take up an offering for mission, such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, or share gifts of encouragement and prayer with one another.
- Explain the meaning behind the tradition
Invite others to join your Advent celebration. Perhaps it’s a formal invite to a weekly gathering in your home. Perhaps it’s one-time dinner invite followed by your daily habit of reading a Bible story with the kids before dessert. However planned or spontaneous, share your Christmas traditions with confidence, explaining to your guests why you do what you do. They might even ask questions that open the door to deeper conversation. And when the evening comes to a close, don’t hesitate to ask if they’d like to come back again and learn more about Jesus.
Savoring the Season
There’s a good chance that you have neighbors from another culture. Or you may know some people who live far from family and are lonely during the holidays. As someone who’s moved across the globe, I can tell you that people who have transplanted their lives would love to be invited into a safe, hospitable space and included in the traditions of the season.
Who knows where your Advent invitation may lead? One year in France, we invited some friends to a simple time of Advent worship in our home, and they reciprocated by inviting us to their house for Christmas Eve. We soon found ourselves sitting at a table at two o’clock on Christmas morning tasting all thirteen traditional desserts after the largest meal of our lives!
Michael Harrington works as a church planter in eastern France together with his wife and two children. You can find him on Twitter @GoodbyeHaran.