Advent begins on Sunday November 27
The crush is on… everywhere you go there are Christmas decorations, piped-in songs and carols, and the endless push to spend, spend, spend. There is another way to mark this season.
This post contains a few ideas as to how you might bring Advent home, so that when the great feast that is Christmas arrives you’ll be able to welcome it with freshness, not with a sense of being exhausted by all the noise and clatter.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath comes to us from the Lutherans of northern Europe. While they have been using it in their shops and homes for the past several hundred years, it is only in the last thirty or forty years that it has become a common tradition throughout the Christian Church worldwide. It usually consists of an evergreen wreath with four candles, one for each week of Advent. Because of the fire hazard of drying evergreens and candles, you may wish to use an artificial wreath, or simply four candles in ordinary candle holders.
While in European homes the candles were usually ordinary red or yellow, when the wreath was taken into the church we initially used one pink and three purple candles to match the liturgical colours of Advent. The pink candle was lit on the third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete Sunday” (meaning “joy”) after the traditional opening sentence for that Sunday, while the purple candles were used for the other three weeks. Beginning some twenty-five years ago – and picking up on a medieval English practice – liturgical churches have attempted to distinguish between the solemn observances of Advent and the more austere and penitential character of Lent, and so the use of blue has become common as the liturgical colour for Advent. Having said all that, whatever colour(s) you choose for your own wreath will be the “correct ones” for your home and will become your family’s tradition.
The Advent wreath is normally lit immediately before the evening meal each day, followed by the grace/blessing/thanksgiving for the meal. On the first Sunday of Advent and throughout that week one candle is lit. A second candle is lit on the second Sunday, and so on until the fourth Sunday when all four candles are lit. If you use small candles, it is advisable to have several replacements available as this Advent you’ll be lighting one of them for twenty-six days. For young members of the family, the lighting of the candles will act as a count-down to the coming of “baby Jesus”, while for older members it will serve as a reminder that we are yet in a different season; a season that calls for an openness to God’s continuing work in us and in our world.
The daily use of the Advent wreath helps to set this season apart from the rest of the year and helps us individually and as a family to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. You may wish to incorporate a recent church addition to the wreath by lighting a white candle set in the middle of the wreath on Christmas Day and the week following to represent “Christ, The Light of the World” coming in our midst that first Christmas.
A crèche or manger scene can be assembled gradually over the season, which gives accent to the idea of preparation.
Week 1: Put out the stable with animals and the manger (if you have one from which the baby can be removed…). You can also place the shepherds and sheep in some out of the way place, signifying “the fields.”
Week 2: Place the Mary and Joseph figures across the room; their journey has begun.
Week 3: Move the Mary and Joseph to a place closer to the stable, leaving the shepherds in the fields.
Week 4: Mary and Joseph are now in the stable with the animals, but there is no baby yet.
Christmas Eve: The baby is placed in the manger, the shepherds are moved to the stable, and the magi are placed somewhere else in the house (they’ve just seen the star, and begun the journey).
Christmas Day: Leave the family in the stable, but move the shepherds back to the fields.
Epiphany (January 6) Bring the magi to the stable.
So basically, do whatever you can to reframe this season a bit and bring Advent home, even when the rest of the society is in full Christmas-shopping and holiday-partying mode; when we actually hit December 24th and enter into our celebrations, they might just resonate with a deeper joy.