Before becoming Catholic I had never before heard of Advent. After reading about it I was blown away yet again by the beauty of Catholicism. But even after reading about Advent it still took me some time to understand and fully appreciate the complete beauty the of Advent Season.
For four weeks, we prepare for Him. We prepare for His birth, and His coming again.
Advent has been described as a “mini-Lent,” a time of repentance as well as a time of preparation. During Advent, Catholic and other Christian homes adorn their tables with the warm glow from the candles of the Advent Wreath.
Origins of The Advent Wreath
The origins of the wreath are not known. Some think it originated in Germany where the Germanic peoples lit candles during the short, cold days of December as a sign of hope for the coming spring. In Scandinavia candles were also placed on a wheel during the winter and “prayers were offered to the god of light to turn ‘the wheel of the earth’ back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.” By the Middle Ages, however, Christians had adopted and adapted these traditions for the Advent Season.
Beautiful in its simplicity, the wreath is made of various evergreens signifying continuing life. Even the shape of the wreath symbolizes our God who has no beginning and no end, as well as everlasting life in Christ.
Four (or Five) Candles
A traditional Advent Wreath is comprised of four candles – three purple and one rose. A candle is lit for each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day when the family gathers for dinner. The purple colored candles, lit first, represent prayer, penance, and preparation. The rose colored candle represents joy and is lit on Gaudete Sunday. In recent years a fifth candle is often added, a large white candle that is placed in the center. The white candle is lit on the Christmas Eve with a Nativity blessing and prayer. What a lovely addition to the family Christmas tree!
There are a number of ways to celebrate Advent besides simply lighting the Advent candles. Honest repentance and prayer, however, are essential to faithfully observing what is the beginning of the Catholic year.
One way to celebrate is to go to confession and take a friend who has not been in a while. Make it a warm and welcoming experience for them.
Hosting a Christmas party, not for close friends but for members of the community and those in need, is another way to celebrate the season. Invite friends you have not seen in a long time, or perhaps someone with whom you had a disagreement.
If you are in the position to really bless someone, help someone in need with a utility bill, or help a family that may be struggling to have a Merry Christmas with gift cards to a grocery store and a department store. However the Holy Spirit acts upon you be sure to demonstrate it. You will have a merry Christmas yourself if you reach out and help someone who cannot repay you. What a blessing!
Focus on Jesus
Advent is also an excellent time to focus our children’s attention on Jesus instead of on presents. Be an example to them by fasting, praying as a family, and repenting. Show them the true spirit and joy of Christmas by doing for others and having a humble attitude. Go to daily Mass if possible. Any and all Christ-entered activities should be encouraged.
As Catholics, we long for Jesus and His coming again. We can become confused during this season because of our culture and materialism. Do not lose faith. Keep Catholic traditions alive in your home and in your heart with the amazing knowledge that He redeemed Himself for you. Never forget it. He will never forget you.
Have a blessed Christmas and New Year.