Most of you are probably pretty familiar with the concept of Advent, particularly in the form of calendars and little chocolate candies:
The Catholic Church recognizes “seasons,” or different times of the year where we focus on different spiritual elements. It gives a rhythm and flow to worship and mirrors the natural cadence of the world. A time to celebrate, a time to mourn, a time to reflect, a time to rest, a time to work, a time to enjoy.
The four weeks prior to Christmas are the season of Advent. While most of society recognizes this time as “Christmastime,” in the Church, Christmas and Advent are two separate things. The Christmas season extends from after Christmas to January 6th, or the feast of the Epiphany, thus the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” According to the USCCB, Advent has two main purposes:
The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
So while in one respect it is the time for preparing for Christmas, it is mostly the time where we reflect on how Christ will come again. To be perfectly honest, that concept is too overwhelming/incomprehensible/frightening/foreign for me to spend too much time reflecting on. But the idea of waiting, preparing, hoping for something more, something better is one I can fully understand.
So how do Catholics recognize Advent? It will vary from family to family, but there are a few traditions.
Parishes and many families will light an advent wreath. One candle is lit every week (the pink candle is for the third week) until Christmas, at mass for parishes and during dinner for families. I searched high and low for purple and pink candles, and came up with none so we do not have an advent wreath this year.
Another Advent tradition you might see is a nativity scene displayed sans baby Jesus. Probably because Catholics are such heathen Mary-worshipers that they totally forgot about “the reason for the season,” right? Actually, it is done to emphasize the idea of waiting for the Christ child to come. On Christmas Eve, Jesus is place in the nativity. Many households or churches do the same with the Three Kings, starting them far away from the nativity and slowly advancing the troupe until the twelfth day of Christmas.
If you happen to find yourself in a Catholic parish during Advent, you might notice that they only sing one Christmas carol – O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The theme of Advent is anticipation, which is at the heart of this song.
Here’s something I just learned this year. There are actually seven verses to this song, each singing of a prophesy and title for the Messiah: O come, o come Emmanuel, O Wisdom, O Lord and Ruler, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dawn of the East, O King of the Gentiles. These are known as the “O Antiphons” and are prayed through on Dec. 17th-Dec 23rd.
Of course there are the more common Christmas activities – decorating, baking, buying gifts, sending cards. But these are some of the things that make Advent its own unique season.
Does your faith tradition recognize Advent? How do you prepare for the Holidays?