Advent, the Christian season of preparation, begins around four weeks before Christmas Day. The First Sunday of Advent occurs on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on 30 November. This means that the beginning of Advent is a movable feast.
Away from the shops and the hype of television and print advertising, John and I discovered that this season can be one of quiet reflection and hope. It leads up to the celebration of the coming of the Christ-Child at Christmas.
Blending two sets of family traditions in a new marriage can be tricky, even for youngsters. But John and I felt pleased that we worked out some Advent customs we both like. In our seventies when we married eleven years ago, perhaps we should have been more stuck in our ways.
Our Advent wreath is a circle of greenery that signifies eternity. Decorated with purple, it reflects the liturgical colour for the season. This year we made modifications in keeping with our simplified lifestyle.
Inside the wreath we placed four candles. Traditionally, three should be purple, and one rose-coloured. Unable to find candles of the right colour and large enough to last for four weeks, this year I substituted white candles decorated with purple and rose ribbons.
We light the rose Gaudette or ‘joy’ candle on the third Sunday of Advent signifying that 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 light another candle and the light from the wreath grows 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. Many traditions surround Christmas trees. I prefer the one which says that during medieval morality plays, an ever-green tree was used to represent the Garden of Eden.
Trees hung with apples and nuts later became associated with Christmas. The apples stood for the fruit of the tree of good and evil.
We trimmed the tree this year with golden baubles and tiny lights. It looks 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 is the smallest I’ve had. It fits our smaller space and lifestyle. However, there is a large tree in the foyer by the lift. A group of residents set it up and made it beautiful last weekend.
A tiny decorated wreath adorns the front door, announcing to visitors and passers-by in our corridor that this household is preparing for Christmas. I also notice other wreaths have appeared along the corridor.
We’ve assembled a crib inside the front door. It’s a simple depiction of the first Christmas in Bethlehem.
Like the stable in the original Christmas story, it’s far from perfect. After a mishap a couple of decades ago when St Joseph was dropped on the tiles, he tends to lose his head. And only two wise men now wait in the wings, instead of three. No one remembers what happened to the man with the gift of gold.
Mary and Joseph and some animals wait, 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.
Every year, members of my large family gather at my house to make the Christmas puddings. It’s a festive occasion. Every one 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 (prayer) of the day –‘Stir up our hearts, O Lord…’
We have not made our Christmas pudding yet for this year. Three lots of cataract surgery between the two of us, as well as viruses and other people’s schedules made it impossible. However, a small gathering is planned to make sure the tradition continues.
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.
I’ve linked this post to another group who are also writing about this topic. You might like to read what other people are saying. Click on Advent.