Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Season of Advent

                                          Celebrating Advent 

I was at a speech tournament this Saturday and participated in a great speech event called extemporaneous. In this event, you are given three questions (international, domestic, and economic) pertaining to current events. Over the course of the year, you've pulled articles from major news sources like CNN and filed them away in a box or boxes. When you walk in the prep room, you're given your three questions, told to pick one, and then have 30 minutes to prepare a 7 minute speech on any given current event. Fun stuff. :)

One of the questions that a fellow competitor of mine got was "Black Friday becomes Black November, Christmas begins in July, have retailers gone too far?" All of the competitors in the room began grinning, thinking about how we would twist the speech. We all could relate to the question because it was so personal, especially around this time of year.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed that Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier. As my wonderful Godmother and aunt adeptly pointed out, "Costco starts Christmas retail on July 21st, starting with the ribbon."
Starting Christmas celebrations so early is surely not natural and it takes away from the joy of the feast when it does arrive. That's why I believe it is important to celebrate the season of Advent before we celebrate Christmas.
Advent, when properly implemented, serves to make the season of Christmas all the more meaningful.
Today, I'm going to explain what Advent is, what our family does during Advent, and just how Advent makes Christmas more special.

Advent is a season of preparation that focuses on getting ready for the birth of Christ. It comes from the Latin word "adventus, i" which means "coming, arrival." The exact date for when Advent starts moves from year to year, but this year it started on November 27. Advent lasts for four weeks, from the First Sunday of Advent all the way until Christmas Day.
The importance of preparation is illustrated over and over again in the four Gospels, but one example is the parable of the ten virgins.
Matthew 25:1-13 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchantsand buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day or the hour."
How does this relate to Christmas? We can't just let the great feast of Christmas jump upon us spiritually. Many people get ready for Christmas materially-buying presents, making cookies, and all the things that go into holiday preparation. But Advent focuses on not only getting ourselves ready for Christmas materially but also spiritually. Advent should be a time of prayer, fasting, and joy, so that when Christmas comes, we can celebrate with our hearts, homes, and souls ready for Christ.
So what exactly do we do during Advent? There are a couple of lovely customs that really make Advent special. One of these is the Advent wreath.

Our Advent wreath. We'll light the second purple candle tomorrow.
The Advent wreath is made up of five candles, three purple, one pink, and one white. Each of the candles symbolize something different and one is lit per week. On the first week of Advent, the first purple candle is lit, symbolizing the Patriarchs. On the second week of Advent, the second purple candle is lit, symbolizing the Prophets. On the third week of Advent, we light the pink candle. This candle is pink because the Third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete Sunday," because we have reached the middle of the Advent season. We are halfway to Jesus' birth. And the last purple candle is lit on the fourth week of Advent, symbolizing the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On Christmas Eve, we light the white candle, often called the Christ candle. The Advent wreath is a beautiful visual reminder of our wait for Christ's birth!

Another Advent custom is the "Christkindl." Our family has also implemented this tradition, and it has served not only to make Advent a fun season, but has also brought our family closer. Maria von Trapp explains it beautifully: "Once more the mother appears with the bowl, which she passes around. This time the pieces of paper contain the names of the members of the family and are neatly rolled up,
because the drawing has to be done in great secrecy. The person whose name one has drawn is now in one's special care. From this day until Christmas, one has to do as many little favors for him or her as one can. One has to provide at least one surprise every single day-but without ever being found out.
This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness. This new relationship is called "Christkindl" (Christ Child) in the old country, where children believe that the Christmas tree and the gifts under it are brought down by the Christ Child himself.

The beautiful thing about this particular custom is that the relationship is a reciprocal one. The person whose name I have drawn and who is under my care becomes for me the helpless little Christ Child in the manger; and as I am performing these many little acts of love and consideration for someone in the family I am really doing them for the Infant of Bethlehem, according to the word, "And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, recieveth me."

That is why this particular person turns into "my Christkindl." At the same time I am the "Christkindl" also for the one I am caring for because I want to imitate the Holy Child and render all those little services in the same spirit as He did in that samll house of Nazareth, when as a child He served His Mother and His foster father with a similar love and devotion. It is a lovely custom, which creates much of the true Christmas spirit and ought to be spread far and wide."

Some of the things that one might do for their Christkindl are making their bed, doing a household chore for them, or even writing (in disguised handwriting so you aren't found out ;) that you've prayed for them that day. On Christmas Eve, we find out who our Christkindl's were. This is probably one of my favorite parts of Advent, and it's a really easy tradition to implement!

And finally, there's the Jesse tree. This is an age-old tradition that's become more and more popular as the years pass. Here's how it works. Each day of Advent, we put a new ornament on our tree. (The tree itself can be a little sapling or a felt tree. Felt is what we use.) The ornaments, which are usually made out of felt as well, each represent a different Bible story. By the end, you'll have worked your way up through salvation history to the birth of Christ. It's a long, extended genealogy of Jesus, one day at a time.
Our Jesse tree is made of felt, so all the ornaments stick on pretty well.
We keep all the ornaments in the little box you see above the Jesse tree.
 We also just bought a new Advent book called The Jesse Tree. It's by Geraldine McCaughrean, and it dramatizes each Bible story to go with each Jesse tree ornament. The illustrations are great, and the story is really cute. I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you have a Jesse tree. Here's the link to where you can purchase it on Amazon: The Jesse Tree

There are a few things also that we hold off until Christmas Eve, to make that day and the day after more meaningful. This is the controversial part of Advent, but bear with me.
We hold off on putting up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. Yes, you read that right. Last year, we bought an artificial Christmas tree, and it works really well. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we bring out the tree and the ornaments and spend most of the morning decorating the tree.

We also wait to bring out our Christmas music until Christmas Eve. Think about this for a minute-why are we singing Joy to the World on December 1, when Jesus hasn't yet come? The lyrics go, "Joy to the world! the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king." It's still Advent-Jesus hasn't come yet.
Plus, holding off on Christmas music adds such a joyful dimension to Christmas Eve and Day. :D
So the next time you see Christmas trees in mid-August, remember that we have a season for that! The season of Advent, although you don't hear about it much, is still very important and brings so much joy to the Christmas season when it comes.
Next week, there are a lot of great feast days. St. Nicholas Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the week after, there's St. Lucy Day. I'll put some more posts up about how we celebrate those days too.
Have a blessed Advent! =)


  1. I love Advent as well, and I really enjoyed your post. I'm currently trying to teach my almost-four-year-old son about what Christmas is really about - the deeper significance of the season. Advent is such a beautiful concept and I'd like to instill that in him.

    On a separate note, as a newly minted university English instructor it is so refreshing to read such intelligent, thoughtful, and grammatically correct musings from a teenager. Impressive!

  2. Noellep: Thank you! When Christmas comes I'll post something on how we celebrate that too. =)