Well, the Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone. Everyone's let their belts out a notch, the parades and football games are over, and the leftovers have been safely stored in the refrigerator. Now comes what is known as Black Friday. A day when the many stores open in predawn darkness with all sorts of Door-Buster specials designed to put buyers loaded with Christmas cash into a spending mood.
|The Traditional Advent Wreath in a Commercial Stand|
Here at Sowing the Seeds we don’t much care for the commercialism that now passes as Christmas. And, since the Christmas season officially starts after Thanksgiving, we decided to devote the next month or so to a study of All Things Christmas. It’s been my experience that even though we’ve celebrated Christmas all our lives, there is still much that can learned about the lore, legend and reality of this most important holiday. As always, we’ve tried to present the material in as interesting and informative way as possible.
Surprisingly enough, this holiday which has been so stereotyped and commercialized was not even celebrated by the earliest of Christians. Each year we hear the plea to return Christmas to its religious roots. Though most everyone agrees that to do so would be a good thing, no one seems to know quite how to go about accomplishing the feat. My suggestion would be to focus on the one part of the equation that is under our control…what happenswithin our own homes.
As Christmas begins to draw near, many parents look for a way, or ways, to prepare the children of the household for the big day and, in process, direct those young minds toward the spiritual meaning of the holiday rather than its more commercial aspects.
The Advent Wreath
While there are many things parents can do to accomplish this, Besides the Advent Wreath one of the most common is an Advent Calendar. For those unfamiliar with the term, Advent (coming from the Latin word adventus meaning coming) is the liturgical season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It begins four Sunday's before Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve. This year, the First Sunday of Advent, the day your Advent Wreath or Calendar comes out, is this coming Sunday, November 27th.
With a history dating back to the Middle Ages, the Advent Wreath is steeped in symbolism. It has four candles, one for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Many times a fifth white candle is added in the center of the circle and burned during the twelve-day Christmas season. Many stores sell pre-made wreathes along with a set of candles. For the more adventurous, it can be an easy do-it-yourself with the kids project.
The wreath itself can be as simple or elaborate as desired. Some people use circles of Styrofoam, or florist’s oasis, as the underpinnings of their wreath. Wreathes can just as easily be made using a square of plywood with holes drilled at each corner or candle holders attached at those positions and in the center, if desired. Once the wreath is covered in greenery, it assumes a round shape regardless of its base.
The traditional colors for the Advent candles are purple and rose. Because of its long association with royalty, purple candles symbolize the coming of the Prince of Peace. The single rose candle is lit during the third week of Advent beginning with Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word for rejoice) to celebrate having reached the half-way point of the season. Some Protestant churches prefer to use four red candles, reflecting the common association of red candles with Christmas decorations, along with a white one at the center.
The wreath is covered with various evergreens, each having its own symbolism. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering, pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism. Its prickly leaves serve as a reminder of the crown of thorns. The circular shape of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Children may want to add pine cones, nuts, or seedpods to decorate the wreath as symbols of life and resurrection.
The following are a suggested, though not required, series of prayers to be used with the Wreath. Each night you may want to accompany them with a short Bible reading.
On the First Sunday of Advent, a parent blesses the wreath, saying: “O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and receive from Thee abundant graces. Amen.”
Each day of the first week of Advent, the youngest child lights one purple candle and the family prays: “O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins. Amen.”
During the second week of Advent, the oldest child lights the purple candle from the first week plus a second purple candle and the family prays. “O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Amen.”
During the third week of Advent, the mother (or another child) lights the two previously lit purple candles plus the rose candle and the family prays, “O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Amen.”
During the fourth week of Advent, the father (or another child) lights all of the candles of the wreath and the family prays, “O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Amen.”
Throughout the twelve days of Christmas, light the white candle and pray, “God of love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh. Make us a people of this light. Make us faithful to your Word that we may bring your life to the waiting world. Amen.”
|An Advent Calendar made of Cloth Pockets|
The Advent Calendar is a more modern innovation that many families enjoy. Like the wreath, the calendar can be as plain as a series of numbered squares of paper or cloth hung in the shape of a Christmas tree, or as fancy as wooden cabinets or houses with doors and drawers for each day. Part of the Advent Calendar’s popularity lies in its versatility. It can be structured to convey a religious message for the Christmas season, or take a more secular approach.
In either case, the calendar counts down to Christmas as the child turns over a tag, opens a little door, or reaches into a pocket to discover a small hidden treasure. Stores sell cardboard ones with paper doors that open to reveal a picture.
|A Wooden Advent Calendar with Drawers|
Some people insert candies while others put in small plastic or felt nativity figures. Each day another figure is removed from that day's pocket, door, box or envelope, etc.. One day a lamb or an angel is revealed. On another day a shepherd or a Wise Man. This continues right up to the day before Christmas, or Christmas day itself when baby Jesus is found. By then the child has assembled the complete nativity scene.
Felt figures can be attached to an adjoining board. The solid figures can become ornaments to be hung on the tree or used to assemble a separate nativity scene in a small crèche. A corresponding portion of the Christmas story can be read for that day’s nativity figurine until it is completed on the last day.
One of the most important parts of parenting is creating memories. If used properly, both the Advent Wreath and/or an Advent Calendar will create both a family tradition and happy memories for your children that will last a lifetime.
Next time we'll take a examine Paul's phrase "...in the fullness of time."
Until then, I wish you Peace and Blesings