Christmas is coming, but you wouldn’t know that from a visit to a local shopping mall. Given that the decorations went up at the end of October and the carols have been playing on an endless loop since the week before Thanksgiving, you would think Christmas was already here. That it isn’t one day—or to be more precise a twelve-day season—but a two month shopping binge ending in a giant blizzard of wrapping paper on the morning of December 25th.
And in the mad rush to celebrate Christmas, we’ve forgotten the equally important season that proceeds it.
Allow me to introduce Advent. Still kept in some church traditions (mainly Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran) it has been all but abandoned in secular American culture. Maybe it’s time to bring back Advent as a way to put the breaks on the retail madness. A good way to start is with one or more of the following traditions:
The Advent Wreath
Arrange four candles in a circle—three purple, one pink (see photo at top). Lay a wreath around the candles (fake greenery please to prevent a fire). Then each Sunday (beginning this year on December 2nd) light the candles as follows:
- First Sunday (12/02/12): Purple candle opposite the pink candle.
- Second Sunday (12/09/12): Purple candles opposite and to one side of pink candle.
- Third Sunday (12/16/12): The two purple candles already lit and the pink candle.
- Fourth Sunday (12/23/09): All four candles.
Or you can light the candles on the Saturday evening proceeding each Sunday, This follows an older Jewish tradition of beginning the day at sunset.
You can light the candles in either clockwise or counterclockwise order. Then on Christmas Eve, light all the candles again plus a white candle in the middle. You can say a prayer when lighting (if you’re so inclined) or just light the candles silently.
An advent calendar counts the days down from December 1st to December 25th. The calendar is usually a large picture with twenty-five little doors (or flaps) numbered for each day. Inside each door is a picture, and in some calendars a treat. Advent calendars are available with both religious and secular themes, and are a great way for children to count down the days. Just make sure your child only opens one door a day, It’s tempting to open them all at once.
Finally, if you keep a nativity set (or creché) as part of your family tradition you can mark the time to Christmas and tell the story of the Nativity in real time by introducing figures over the course of the month. For example, when you decorate put out the manger. Then add the animals, the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph over the course of the month. Finally on Christmas day add Baby Jesus and bring in the Wise Men a few days later. If you want to be a stickler, you can delay the Wise Men until Epiphany (January 6th), but even if you keep your decorations up that long you’ll be taking them down soon after. A fun touch is to have Mary and Joseph, and later the Wise Men, “wander” through the home for a week or so before they “arrive.” An older child can choose where to put them each day while a younger one can have fun trying to find them.
Advent at Fatherhood Etc.
I’ll be doing my part on this blog next month: keeping an online Advent calendar from December 1st (which happens this year to be the Vespers—or eve—of the First Sunday of Advent) through December 25th. Be sure to click on the numbered “windows” each day to receive a musical treat appropriate to that day in the liturgical calendar.
I’ll also be linking to The Advent Conspiracy throughout the season, an ongoing online campaign designed to “turn Christmas upside down (by) worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, (and) loving all.”
Advent is coming. May yours be a blessed one.