As I write this from our home in Hamburg the weather prediction is for up to two feet of snow tomorrow for our area, which is just south of Buffalo, New York. This is the time of year when we can get heavy “lake effect” snow, which is picked up from the moisture on Lake Erie. Nothing like a good old snowfall to start you thinking about the up-coming holiday season and the coming of Christmas.
I have begun thinking anyway about the coming holidays and preparations that will need to be made, so yesterday while Mary Jo and I were out and about we stopped into a local shop to pick up candles for the Advent wreath. They had just what we needed, so I picked out three purple and one pink, perfect.
We have always loved the Advent season in our home. It offers the perfect lead-in to the Christmas holiday. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of advent in the dictionary and the first thing it states is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.” While that may be the more secular meaning, it also fits with the Christian meaning as well. Advent is the time to prepare for the coming of this notable person, this notable event, the birth of the Christ-child.
Advent in our home meant that we would carry on certain traditions, the principal one being praying around the advent wreath each evening. Our children looked forward to this, especially as they got old enough to be entrusted with lighting the candles by themselves. With five children taking turns, they were especially excited as each Sunday arrived and the lucky one got to light one more candle than the week before. We would usually say a short prayer or reflection using an age appropriate guide book and then the candle-lighter also would lead the family in a closing Christmas carol of their choosing. This was followed by getting to blow out the candle and placing the next velcro-backed figure onto a fabric advent calendar which we hung in our kitchen. I also recall the couple of years when one of the aunts sent the children one of those advent calendars which contained a little chocolate treat behind each day’s door. They really enjoyed that part and still recall those calendars with a special fondness.
As I reflect on the times when our family would gather around the advent wreath in our dining room, the thing that I most vividly recall is the look of wonder and awe in the faces of our children. In the darkness of the room, on those cold December evenings, there was a spirit of peace and beauty reflected in the candle light which shone on those young, innocent faces gathered around the table. And as each week of advent passed into the next, and we would light one more candle on the wreath, those faces would become a just a little bit clearer to see and our dining room became more and more filled with the light of the season. So by the fourth Sunday, when all the candles were lit, the joy became even more evident, something you could feel inside of you and could almost touch. I can still picture it and feel it to this day.
I sometimes wonder what Christmas would be like without Advent. It seems to me to that if you do not first experience the waiting, the sense of wonder of things to come, then when the day of arrival of the Christ child comes, it would leave just a hollow, unfulfilled void in your heart. The Church certainly knew what they were doing when the first season of our liturgical calendar was set with Advent.
While we had other advent traditions which we carried on in our family, the time gathered around the advent wreath was the most precious of all. I hope that our children will pass on the traditions of advent, especially the advent wreath, to their own children, so that they too can feel and sense the joyful anticipation of this season leading up to the arrival of the Christ child.