The 4 weeks preceding Christmas (commonly referred to by many as Advent) is a period of time, not a single day or moment. It is a time of preparation, of readying oneself to celebrate the true meaning of the birth of Christ. It is a time that Christians can contemplate the years of waiting the Israelites experienced for the arrival of the Messiah, and in so doing, gain renewed hope and faith as today we patiently wait for His return.
The single most important element in the service is the mood. The right mood of the person carrying it, the mood of the children - and, most importantly of the parents, as they come into it, is absolutely essential. Every step and detail must be thought through and planned (and every mistake and disaster anticipated) so there is no hurrying, no flapping about, no hesitation, no furtive whispers exchanged ("what do we do with the apples?" "Oh no, the wax is dripping on the pine branches"). One can thus see that the participating families must be thoroughly prepared in advance for what will take place!
Basically, the idea is this: a large walking path is created of pine greenery and interesting branches. It is decorated with pine cones and other wintry items from nature. In the center stands a non wobbly stump with a flat surface - on this stands a large pillar candle, lit, a large Nativity set could also be there. Outside of the walkway someone stands with a tray with one red apple per person. The apples will have been cored and a small candle put into each. . One adult carries the trays and hands an unlit apple candle to each person as s/he in turn comes up to the path. Why an apple? The fruit represents the fall of man into sin (Adam & Eve in Eden), the red color symbolizes the blood of Christ that was shed for our salvation. The lit candle placed within the apple signifies the individual placing & keeping Christ in the center of their life and following the light he imparts to us. The evergreens used to create the path remind us of the everlasting life we can have through Jesus Christ.
The room is dimly lit. Someone might be gently playing Christmas carols on a harp, lyre, flute or piano. A few people softly humming spiritual Christmas carols can be very nice. What you don't want is lively singing! So no "Jingle Bells"!!
So now everything is set and the leader opens the door to let everyone into the dimly lit room. Other adults in the room start to gently hum carols - or an instrument is played. Everyone is ushered to their seats quietly without talking, but all may choose to join in humming carols if so desired.
Everyone is now seated. Someone who knows what they are doing begins - there is no verbal instruction, no welcome, no little speeches, no 'what shall we hum now'. Everything happens like clockwork. So the appointed child or adult approaches the apple candle person and is given an apple. She walks the path, slowly. She approaches the candle in the center and lights her candle. The large center candle represents the light of Jesus, and you are re-welcoming Him into your life, or asking Him into your life for the very first time as you light your smaller candle. (As you light your candle, you can also think of the true meaning of the coming Christmas season, and the gift of Jesus, or be praying for yourself, someone special to you, or someone in need of prayer... or giving prayers of thanks.) She/He then turns back and finds a good place to put her/his candle amongst the greenery. Every person gets to come up - if a child is too shy to come up on her own, then it's fine for an adult or teen to accompany her.
Once everyone has finished, sit and admire the lit candles. The room should only be lit by the candles. Continue to hum quietly. The leader, at the right moment, quietly opens the door for families to quietly - in silence or still humming - to file out. The hallway, all the way to the exit will be lowly lit to not spoil the mood. Everyone remains silent or humming as they get their coats on and go home. There should be no talking or running about - let the image of the candle lit room work on your hearts as you go home.
This service can be done outside - in a wooded grove is really wonderful - seeing a lit pathway amongst the trees is magical. And nature will be happy to help you create the right mood if you let it. We are considering this as an option, but will probably utilize the school gym instead.
A few things to consider: make sure all the children have long hair pulled back and no dresses or skirts!! You don't want to start a fire! Adults should fully discuss with their children well in advance the meaning of this event & exactly what will be happening at it so they understand the service & why their very best behavior will be required of them.
We hope you, your family, and friends will enjoy this very special and reverential event as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord!