Saturday, December 13, 2008
Advent, Not Just the Weeks Before Christmas
Advent is its own season, rather than just the time before Christmas. It is indeed a time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, but it is about more than that. It looks forward to the second coming as well. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation. In fact, the gospel for the first Sunday is the parable of the foolish virgins. This is a penitential season, not one of gaiety. We are fasting, praying, taking an account of our souls, preparing our hearts for the Incarnation and for His return. What we are to do now is repent not celebrate. The Church set this time as a mini-Lent. Each week of Advent has a theme, the first Sunday is vigil, the second is prophecy, the third is joy and the fourth is readiness. Advent is always the four Sundays before Christmas, and ends at sunset on Christmas Eve.
So, in our house, we don't have Christmas lights up, we don't play Christmas carols (and my iPod is helping me ignore the carols everywhere else) and you won't see any Christmas ornaments or decorations. We have an Advent wreath with three purple candles and one pink one, we light one candle for each week and do our evening prayers around the candles at the table. It is pretty simple here, we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel (which is an Advent hymn, not a Christmas hymn, much like We Three Kings is an Epiphany hymn), do the evening readings for the day and say our family prayers. Jerome asks us when we are going to do the Advent each night immediately after dinner. We think it's more because of the candlelight, but he has been learning the words to our song and joining in. The older children are learning the first verse and chorus of it in Latin.
We also have an empty creche. We put Mary and Joseph somewhere in the living room across from the creche, and they travel to the stable through weeks before Christmas. The children look for them each day as they travel through our house. Christmas Eve, they will be in the stable, and Christmas morning, the baby Jesus will be there with the shepherds and angels. This is a way for us to remind our children and ourselves of what we are doing and why.
Each year I have wanted to have a Jesse Tree, which is a kind of family tree for Jesus, which represents salvation history. It is a bare branch, the root of Jesse from which will spring forth the flower, and we put ornaments symbolizing the various characters of history which led to the birth of the Lord on it each day up to Christmas. We haven't done it this year, so we've just been reading the scripture passage and talking about the person each day. I've told the boys to be on the look out next year for a good Jesse Tree for us.
Since this is a time of repentance, not simply a time to shop, we are in opposition to our culture. Which is as it should be. The Church is to be set apart. Taking a reflective time to be penitent, expectant and prepared is not the norm. Christmas starts in June in most of the retail world, but the 12 days of Christmas don't actually begin until Christmas day. It is very hard to find anyone playing Christmas carols on the radio during that time, even on Christmas day. They play them for two months prior, and stop. Rich and I have been trying to collect all of our favorites to play for the 12 days, since it is really only then that we are ready for them anyway.
The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Church's new year. Our new year began with Deacon Michael being ordained as Father Michael, which was a great new year's day for us. Unfortunately, because it was also the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and we didn't find out his ordination date early enough, not a soul from our church was able to be at his ordination, which was in California. We were able to see lots of pictures and talk to him on the phone, but that was pretty much it until he returned.
Because this is a time of fasting, we don't do all the treats until after Christmas Eve Mass. There is an exception to that. We celebrate St. Nicholas' feast day on the sixth and we let the children eat their fill of the goodies from their stockings on that day. It's kind of a break in the middle of the fast. So, on the evening of the fifth, we put stockings out, the children write letters or make drawings for St. Nicholas to take to Jesus, we usually put out a carrot for his horse, too, which Rich usually eats up. The next morning we all awake to stocking full of peanuts, oranges, candy canes, chocolates, a sack of chocolate coins (because of the dowry money that St. Nicholas gave to a set of poor sisters), the children get some sort of little light that they usually burn out by the end of the month, and somehow, Rich and I end up with surprises, too. St. Nicholas usually makes sure that Rich gets maple sugar candies that he remembered from his childhood, and sometimes he'll find little gifts or foods that he doesn't usually have. I often find things like perfume, fancy creams, music I like, things like that. It's amazing that St. Nicholas shops in the same places that we do. Something that I've been wanting to do for years is make these filled cookies that are shaped in the first initial of the receiver to put in the stockings. I got as far as having the recipe ready and the ingredients in the house. Maybe next year.