Advent resources and e-course

Did you know these facts about Advent and Christmas?

  • Advent means ‘coming’. We tend to think of Advent as preparing for Christmas (ie preparing for remembering Jesus’ first coming), but traditionally the focus was on preparing our hearts for Jesus’ second coming.
  • Advent is a penitential season (like Lent). Traditionally, this was a time of fasting and prayer before the feasting of Christmas.
  • Christmas only starts on December 25th, and runs for two weeks afterwards. Some of my more traditional Anglican friends think it very improper to sing Christmas carols in Advent, insisting that the right time to sing them is for two weeks after the 25th December.

Here are some ways you can mark Advent and prepare thoughtfully for Christmas:

Advent E-Course: Coming Home – November 30 2014 – January 11 2015

This time last year I was feeling a yearning to sit quietly amidst all the rush of advent glitter and jingly songs. I signed up for an e-course/online retreat run by my dear friend Tara Owens, who is a certified spiritual director. It was an amazing experience: for the first time in years I felt spiritually prepared for the season. Christmas felt like a holy time, rather than a stressful one, and I want to do it all over again this year. Truly, this course was the spiritual highlight of my last year.

It has three levels of involvement, depending on your budget. For the maximum benefit, I can recommend doing what I did last year, which was signing up to the conference calls where you have group spiritual direction and creative meditative exercises, because these were led so well. But even without those calls, just with the email prompts and exercises, Tara’s content is so good and so different to anything else out there that it is worth signing up at the lowest level if that’s all you can afford.

Tara Owens is a highly insightful Bible teacher, and she has a knack for asking just the right questions to get at the heart issues. She has a gentle spirit, and has her roots firmly in the Scriptures and in the most helpful traditions of the ancient church.

If you can, DO IT! For Advent and Christmas, Nov 30 2014 – Jan 11 2015. For more details click here. 


  • Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas – John Blase. I read this last year for Advent, and for me it really did recapture the awe of that first Christmas. It is a retelling of Luke 1-2, by John Blase, poet and blogger, (who has guest-posted here earlier this year). It has 12 sections, each starting with a Bible reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, then telling the story creatively from a particular person’s point of view (e.g. Elizabeth, Mary etc), and ending with a handwritten prayer or reflection. The result is something remarkable, and he really helped me to see afresh a story that can become tired upon repetition, making the characters seem very contemporary. He is such a gifted writer that these short meditations have stayed with me, even a year on, and reading it really did feel like the wonder of Christmas was made more tangible.
    See it on and


I love listening to Christmas music in all December. (This is a bit of a Thing with me: in December I only listen to Christmas music.) These are some of my favourites:

Traditional Carols:

  • Merry Christmas – Vienna Boys Choir – If you would like carols, but feel like a European twist, this is an enchanting album. The sound is sweet – which is not to say ‘cute’, but ‘delicious’, and there is a mixture of German and English classic carols. One of my favourites.
    See it on or


  • Christmas with the Tallis Scholars – This is two CDs – the second sounds like traditional Latin monk chanting, and can be useful for meditation or relaxation, the first is a lovely collection of haunting traditional and early carols and motets, sung unaccompanied by a small choir. It is best heard accompanied by a roaring fire, to feel the primal power of those haunting chants and wandering harmonies. I love this period of music, and used to sing in a madrigal choir, so this is special to me.
    See it on or
  • In Terra Pax (City of London Choir) – This is a lovely collection of more unusual Christmas music – British composers mainly from the 20th Century (Holst, Vaughan williams, Rutter) etc. This is a big choir with an orchestra, so it has a rich and full sound, and the soloists were all good. If you like your advent music to have a twinge of discordance, even while the lyrics proclaim the comfort of Christmas, this is the one for you.
    See it on or


  • Sweet Bells – Kate Rusby. Kate Rusby is an incredibly talented English folk singer, and this is full of good English cheer and wassailing. Her voice is just captivating, and her arrangements of these traditional folk songs and carols are fabulous. It’s a really cosy album. She has another Christmas album, While Mortals Sleep, which is also excellent, but Sweet Bells is probably the one to get if you just get one.
    See it on or
  • Christmas in DiverseCity – Toby Mac – Apparently this dude used to be in DCTalk. I’m not sure how you’d describe this music – electro pop? (I feel old). This has a great, upbeat, contemporary twist on traditional Christmas Carols, and some great collaborations, including Owl City, whilst still feeling worshipful. See it on or


This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and then buy anything from Amazon, you will donate a few pennies to me, at no extra cost to you.

**Update** Mon 17th November – I forgot two mention two great websites to check out:

  • The Vicar’s Wife introduced me to a nice idea for families for Advent, as an advent calendar alternative: The Jesse Tree.
  • James Cooper has a SERIOUSLY amazing website for all things Christmas (he has all of those advent facts and more). If you need any background on any of the traditions for Christmas, his is the one-stop-shop for it all –

Over to you: 

  • What do you like to listen to/read in Advent?

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9 Responses to Advent resources and e-course

  1. James Cooper 17th November, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Advent & Christmas is a pretty big thing for me as I run one of the biggest xmas info sites on the web ( – so if anyone needs to know anything about Christmas – please check it out 🙂

    And I LOVE Christmas music as well 🙂 I have nearly 200 xmas albums at the last count (yes, really!!!). I agree about the ‘Essential Carols from Kings College, Cambridge’ album. I think it’s the best ‘choral carols’ one I’ve got. Hopefully they’ll be some more about life for the choristers at Kings on my site soon. Amazingly, I recently had a phone chat with one of the top staff at the choir school – still can’t quite believe that!

    From your links above, I’ll be adding the Tallis Scholars one. Looks fab as do the previews. Early choral music is one of my favourite genres. If you like that, then I think you’ll also like the album ‘Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe’ by The Sixteen (

    For some different kind of xmas music, I’m loving the new album from ‘Over the Rhine’ called ‘Blood Oranges in the Snow’ ( They’re one of my favourite groups (they’re bluesy/folky) and do ‘reality christmas’ music. Their previous xmas album ‘Snow Angel’ is also wonderful. The lyrics of their songs could easily just be published as poetry.

    • Tanya 20th November, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      Thanks so much for the reminder of your website – I was kicking myself that i’d forgotten to include it at first!

      I think you’re right – that album by The Sixteen sounds just up my street!

      And someone else recommended the Over The Rhine album – I’ll have to check it out! Fab!

  2. Amy Young 17th November, 2014 at 2:41 am #

    Guess what I just signed up for :)>

    • Tanya 20th November, 2014 at 11:31 am #


  3. Ros 16th November, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    Advent is my favourite season in the church calendar and I do think it is a shame that so many churches have let it be overrun with Christmas. I don’t absolutely object to singing any Christmas carols before 25th, but I do think it’s a shame if we don’t get to sing the really great Advent hymns as a result.

    • Tanya 20th November, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      I’m so with you! Having rediscovered it, I wish churches made more of it. I think the church calendar has a good rhythm – Lent makes us hunger for Easter, Advent makes us hunger for Christmas. We need the fast as well as the feast.

  4. Rebecka 16th November, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

    In my house, Christmas music is played from Advent until “Tjugondag Knut” (January 13th, twenty days after Christmas) which in Swedish traditional is the day for throwing out the Christmas tree and taking down the decorations (as well as eating all the sweets you might still have).

    I read Touching Wonder last year and I thoroughly enjoyed it, thanks for reminding me, I think I’ll read it again this year! I hope you and your family will have a wonderful Advent.

    • Tanya 20th November, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      I’m so glad you’re also a fan of Christmas music! Jan 13th is really late to throw out the christmas tree – i’m assuming the christmas tree also arrives late (ours arrive any time between 1 dec and last week of december, but most in UK do it mid december and Jan 6th is the last day you can have the tree up.) I always feel so sad when it goes down!

      So glad you enjoyed Touching Wonder! That John Blase is a genius.

      • Rebecka 20th November, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

        In Sweden the tree usually arrives only a couple of days before Christmas, and our main day of celebration is Christmas Eve! Funny how traditions can be so similar, yet so different. I’m also always sad when it goes down!

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