Blending two sets of family traditions in a new marriage can be tricky, even for youngsters. John and I are pleased we’ve worked out some Advent customs we both like, even though we were in our seventies when we married six years ago, and should have been more stuck in our ways. Away from the shops and the hype of television and print advertising, we’ve discovered that this season can be one of quiet reflection and hope leading up to the celebration of the coming of the Christ-Child at Christmas.
Advent begins around four weeks before Christmas Day, not always on the same date. The First Sunday of Advent occurs on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on 30 November, so that the beginning of Advent is a moveable feast.
Every year, members of my large family gather at my house to make the Christmas puddings. It’s a festive occasion. Everyone stirs the pudding mixture (and taste it!) and has the opportunity to make a wish. According to a British tradition, Christmas puddings are made on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. This is sometimes called ‘Stir-up’ Sunday from the first words in the Collect of the day – ‘Stir up our hearts, O Lord…’
Our Advent wreath is made of a circle of greenery that signifies eternity. Decorated with purple flowers, it reflects the liturgical colour for the season. Inside the wreath are three purple candles and one that is rose-coloured . The rose one is known as the Gaudette or ‘joy’ candle because it is lit on the third Sunday of Advent when Christmas is near. On the first Sunday of Advent, John lit one purple candle on our wreath and we continue to light it before the evening meal as we say a short prayer. Each Sunday we will light another candle and the light from the wreath will grow brighter as we get closer to Christmas.
John and I put up the Christmas tree on the Feast of St Nicholas (perhaps the first Santa Claus) on 6th December. There are many traditions surrounding Christmas trees. The one I prefer says that during medieval morality plays, an ever-green tree was used to represent the Garden of Eden. Trees later became associated with Christmas, and were hung with apples and nuts. The apples stood for the fruit of the tree of good and evil.
Our tree is laden with golden baubles; it is very different from the trees my six children and I decorated when they were young and I was an impoverished single parent. In those days, our tree was a branch from one that grew in the garden. Everyone helped to make the decorations from cardboard, painted pine cones and crepe paper. This year’s tree’s a bit lop-sided, but I love it anyway. Soon, we’ll put the wrapped presents underneath.
A decorated wreath adorns the front door, announcing to visitors and passers-by that this household is preparing for Christmas.
We’ve assembled a crib on the hall stand. It’s a simple depiction of the first Christmas in Bethlehem and far from perfect. After a mishap a couple of decades ago when St Joseph was dropped on the tiles, he has a tendency to lose his head; and there are only two wise men now, instead of three. No one remembers what happened to the man with the gift of gold.
Mary and Joseph and some animals are waiting, but there is no manger yet. After Mass on Christmas Eve, we’ll take the Infant Jesus out of hiding and place Him in the middle of the stable.
Too often in the past, my preparation for Christmas has been fraught with too much to do and too many places to go. But these days, for this old couple, Advent is a peaceful, gentle time. Old age has many benefits.