“The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before… .What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.” ~ Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas
The weather is changing and the holiday season is upon us. Decorations have been up in stores for weeks, a bright mishmash of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas displays to entice the consumer to buy, buy, buy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hoopla and the craziness and lose the true meaning of what we are celebrating.
As I write this, Advent is just around the corner. I have no idea where the time went. It seems like yesterday that we were taking down the Nativity and the last of the Christmas decorations and getting back into our normal routine.
For me Advent is time to look back to see how my family and I prepared for the birth of the Christ Child in the past. Some years we did better than others. They were more spiritual, or more fruitful. Others were more filled with good intentions than anything else. The wheels in my head start turning. How can my family make this Advent a true time of preparation so that we can offer the Christ Child the worthy gift ourselves on His birthday? Are there any ideas that other families might be able to use?
1. The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is a staple in our home during the Christmas Season. It is always out, though we sometimes forget to light it. As a family it might be nice to research the reason for the Advent wreath. What is the meaning of the candles—their number and their color? Is there a reason for the wreath to be circular? For it to be green? Where did the custom come from? There are many booklets available that contain prayers and readings to be used with the Advent Wreath. The candles can be lit daily, or weekly—perhaps on Sunday, while a parent says the appropriate prayer and/or reading.
2. Filling the Manger
Another custom our family practiced for many years was filling of the manger for the Christ Child. We found a container that could be used as a manger and a small Christ Child figurine. The figurine stayed hidden until Christmas Eve, but the manger was kept out in plain sight where everyone could see it. If we wanted to fill the manger in time for the Baby Jesus’ arrival on December 25th, we had to practice good deeds. Every good dead meant a little more straw for Jesus’ bed and a wonderful bundle of gifts to offer Him upon his arrival. Our girls especially enjoyed this.
3. Hand-crafted Gifts
Making hand crafted gifts of any kind might be a way to stress the importance of giving from the heart, out of love. These gifts can be given to charities, as well as to families and friends. If the gifts are made in a family or group setting, Jesus’ great gift of self can be discussed while crafting or baking.
4. Saint Nicholas Legends
One year the girls researched some of the different renditions and legends of Santa Claus/St. Nicholas as gift giver. At least one of the legends was a female! That was a surprise. The girls made a poster of several of these people with their names and places of origin. This project can culminate in the story of St. Nicholas and a discussion about his place in the Advent and Christmas Season. An image or statue of a Kneeling Santa can be very helpful in that regard.
KNEELING SANTA PRAYER
The sleigh was all packed, the reindeer were fed,
But Santa still knelt by the side of his bed,
“Dear Father, ” he prayed, “Be with me tonight.
There’s much work to do and my schedule is tight.
My sack will hold toys to grant all kids’ wishes.
The supply will be endless like the loaves and the fishes.
I can do all these things, Lord, only through You.
I just need your blessing, then it’s easy to do.
I do this only to honor the birth of the One,
That was sent to redeem us, Your most Holy Son.
So to all of my friends, lest Your glory I rob,
Please, Lord, remind them who gave me this job. (From SantaLady.com)
5. Explore Your Roots
This might be a good time to look at how other cultures and families celebrate Advent. Are there Italian roots in the family? Spanish or French? Russian or Greek? English or Irish? How is Advent celebrated in the “old country”? There might be a custom that intrigues you enough to try, and maybe even integrate into your own preparations.
6. Rediscover Advent
I was well into adulthood when I realized that Advent is actually a penitential season (thus the purple vestments) and that some families hold off celebrating and gift giving until Epiphany. This could be fodder for family discussion. Why did they choose to celebrate this way? Is this something we can or want to do? What if that’s not for us? What might we do?
Here’s one idea. It might be challenging with all the Christmas baking and party invitations, but if we can fit some of our more Lenten practices into our Advent preparation, they might make the season more spiritual and help us to better prepare for the great gift that is Christmas. I’ve wanted to test this theory on many occasions, and failed.
Maybe this Advent will be different.
Have a wonderful and Blessed Advent and Christmas Season.