Excitement is in the air, a light of promise and expectation. It comes with a season of preparation. It may begin the morning after families and friends are gathered together in the Day of Thankfulness. Slowly, the arrival materializes in the form of an evergreen tree. Each symbol represents a tradition of our faith. It is hard to imagine what life was like for the people before the birth of Jesus. They may have walked without hope or the presence of an inner light.
Christians mark Advent as the period of four Sundays ending on Christmas Eve. It is the preparation for the birth of Jesus, His coming into the world. Through the symbols of an Advent wreath and calendar, each day is a moment to celebrate the meaning of Christmas. It celebrates
- The birth of Jesus, the coming of Christ, who came into the world to live, teach and die for his followers. A time indicating a new beginning of forgiveness and salvation.
- The light of faith, and Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit.
- His Second Coming, the arrival of Jesus’ kingdom in heaven.
This symbolic wreath comprising greenery, and most often, four candles, is laid flat as a representation of eternal life. While traditions and symbolism vary, candles can be red or purple. Some wreaths have a “Christ Candle,” a white candle placed in the center and only lit on Christmas Day.
The symbolism of the four candles:
- The first candle represents Isaiah and the other profits, who predicted the coming of Jesus, and is symbolic of hope.
- The second candle often identifies “the Manger” as peace.
- The third candle embodies Mary as a symbol of joy. (Gaudate Sunday means “Sunday of Rejoicing.” A rose candle may be used to honor Mary, as the mother of Jesus, or as a transition from repentance to celebration.
- The fourth candle personifies John the Baptist, who told the people to prepare for the teachings of Jesus.
On the second Sunday of Advent, we light the second candle, as well as the first one.
Not typically a custom in homes today, the wreath can be one new symbolic tradition to gather the family together, witness the lighting of the candle, and perhaps say a prayer. Advent means “the coming”
The Advent Calendar
Whimsical in nature, the format of the Advent calendar can be a 24-box train or numbered envelopes connected by a string that the children make themselves. It also can be a wall hanging. Constructed from a durable and washable quilted fabric, large in size, the Advent calendar can be modeled after a 24-pocket snowman, a gingerbread house, or the Christmas tree. Some calendars do not have the numbers stitched in order; instead, it is a game. Moving the marker from the fourth day to the fifth, for instance, is an honor, especially if the house has children. Additionally, the pockets can contain slips of paper intended for a particular purpose, such as those mentioned in the next paragraph.
Tasks to Promote Understanding and Love
To young children, Christmas may be perceived as a season of receiving. Through the tool of the Advent calendar, children can be motivated to promote joy, establish peace, rekindle relationships, and help others not to feel the strain of loneliness. The simple and fun task of baking and delivering homemade cookies to an older couple in the neighborhood can make a difference in their life. With open-ended phrases such as “show kindness,” “make a friend,” “help someone in need” or “be uplifting,” a gift from the heart spontaneously performed for a person can instill a feeling of goodness during the season of Advent. This time of preparation is not just now, but a season of continued goodness.
The people of Israel were familiar with the idea of waiting. They, too, awaited their promised Messiah and began symbolic rituals. As Christians, we carry forth and instill the traditions in our children by lighting candles and counting down in hope, love, and preparation for “the coming.”