One memorable Advent, I wondered if I was going to set our kitchen table on fire when I started lighting all the candles amassed on its surface. There were four thick pastel candles on our Advent wreath and six slender primary-colored ones in our nearly-full Chanukah candelabrum, properly known as a chanukiah. (A full chanukiah is composed of nine candles, with four candles on each side of a raised center candle). My husband and I are both Jewish followers of Jesus and wanted our children to connect with the hope and history embedded in both observances. It seemed like a good idea until I realized that our kitchen table was starting to look like a campfire without the s’mores.

As a Jew, I’d grown up celebrating Hanukkah. My parents emphasized that Christmas and Easter were Gentile holidays, and as a result, I never paid much attention to them. So how did a nice, Hanukkah-celebrating Jewish girl like me come to embrace Advent?

When I first came to faith in Jesus in the mid-1970s, I assumed that seasonal pop-culture markers like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shared equal meaning with the quiet little family at the center of the manger scene, and that Advent was the religious name for holiday TV specials that served as a countdown toward Christmas morning. Years later when I married my husband, we threw ourselves head first into the non-denominational congregations we attended during our children’s growing-up years. There, Advent was primarily the name we gave to December’s church programming: the ladies Christmas tea, the children’s Christmas program, and the all-carols service that we celebrated the Sunday before Christmas. The local Christian radio station often had Advent-themed teaching, and ...

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