Merry Chr….. Wait! Hold up! Stop what you are doing! It’s not Christmas yet! Are you thinking to yourself, “What? I thought I saw all kinds of Christmas trees and angels, lights and cheery Santas. Not only that but there is Christmas music on the radio 24 hours a day all week long! Surely it is Christmas time!” Alas, my friends, it isn’t Christmas just yet, at least not for us Catholics. For us it is Advent- the beautiful start to our liturgical year. Advent is the time when we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord in his miraculous birth. Christmas signals the arrival of our Savior but that doesn’t happen just yet. We celebrate that wondrous event on December 25th and don’t stop celebrating it until the Epiphany. However, until that time we, as Catholic Christians, celebrate Advent.
You may be wondering why it is important to separate the two seasons. After all, isn’t it better to celebrate Christmas and Christ’s arrival for as long as possible? Of course we want to celebrate Christ’s miraculous birth. Without it we would not have the hope of salvation and heaven! However, like all things worth waiting for and celebrating, it’s important that we are in the correct state of mind and spirit to do so. We don’t want the secularization of the holiday to overtake the real importance of the event. We don’t want to mindlessly wrap yet another present while listening to Christmas music on the radio without truly reflecting on the beauty of what happened so many years ago in a quiet Bethlehem manger. If we do this then we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. Thankfully we have the season of Advent that precedes the Christmas season to help us remember why we will soon be celebrating.
You may be asking yourself how you should celebrate Advent. We have many rich traditions we can incorporate into our family life during this time of year.
- Advent wreath– consisting of four candles, 3 purple and one pink, a new candle is lit each Sunday. You can make a family Advent wreath to keep in a special place to light each Sunday. Each week we remember different gift: hope, peace, joy, and love. Say a family prayer as you reflect on the week’s gift.
- St. Nicholas– one of our children’s favorite traditions is to set out their shoes for St. Nicholas. They look forward each year to waking up on December 6th to find their shoes filled with candy and little treats. They love to hear the true story of St. Nick.
- Put up a nativity set but don’t put the baby Jesus in until Christmas! The children love to anticipate His coming!
- In addition to helping your children count down until the baby Jesus will be in his manger, make an Advent calendar or chain. Each night open a new window, place a picture on a calendar, or tear off a link to the chain and read a bible verse. As the chain gets shorter and the windows on the Advent calendar open, the children know that Jesus will be born soon!
- Make Advent a special time to pray together as a family. Pray when you light your Advent candles but make other times to pray as well. Perhaps incorporate a family rosary into your day/night. If you can’t do a full rosary together focus on saying a decade together. Mediate on Christ’s upcoming birth. Talk about how the angel came to Mary to tell her she had been chosen by God. Pray that you can have the strength to say yes to God, just as Mary did.
- Make a Jesse Tree. Don’t know what a Jesse Tree is? A Jesse Tree is a wonderful history lesson and reminder of Christ’s family tree. It depicts Christ’s ancestors throughout the ages and through the Old Testament Bible stories. This is a wonderful way to connect the Old Testament with the New. It’s a great way to show our children how our Savior’s birth and life was foretold so long ago.
- Do good deeds for others. While we should always be putting others first Advent is a wonderful time to really step up our efforts to do good for others. Help out an elderly neighbor; take food to a family in need; donate extra clothing and blankets; volunteer at a food bank; donate toys for children who may not otherwise receive anything; visit residents at a nursing home who otherwise might be alone during the holidays; help out the people in your own home… do nice things for those who are closest to you! Whatever you do, do it with a giving heart, expecting nothing in return.
The Advent season is so important. We can’t afford to miss out on all it has to offer us. We need this time to pray, to wait, to anticipate, to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. Take time to slow down, to avoid the hustle and bustle that the secular world wants to force upon you during this time, and enjoy the quiet waiting. Become like a little child, quivering with excitement of what is to come. Don’t rush through the holiday just to get to Christmas day. The journey to the humble manger in Bethlehem is an important part of the story too. Don’t miss out on the quiet ride to the great gift that awaits.
What kind of Advent traditions do you have in your family?