The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment… But we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it” (CCC 2697). If we take time to pray at ‘specific times’, our home will be filled with prayer at ‘all times’.
One of these times is the season of Advent (from the Latin word “adventus”, meaning “coming”). It is the time of preparation for the birth of Christ. It is a time of longing and waiting for his ‘coming’. It should be a time filled with joy when we ponder the gift of God’s love, open our hearts to receive and open our hands to give.
Advent traditions are numerous. We do not always know their exact origin, but they have been lived in the hearts of the faithful. If traditions are lived and understood, they can bring families closer to Christ and transform the hearts of those who participate in them. How can we introduce some Advent traditions into our families this Advent season?
Advent Wreath – The wreath is circular and made of evergreens symbolizing the eternity of God. Seeds and fruit we may place on the wreath represent life and resurrection. There are four candles on the wreath, each representing one week of Advent. The three purple candles stand for prayer and penance. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday (the “Gaudete Sunday”) and it symbolizes joy – “gaudium” in Latin – as we draw closer to the birth of Christ. The light that the wreath brings symbolizes Christ Himself – our Light.
Nativity Scene – Saint Francis of Assisi began the custom of the nativity scenes when he celebrated Christmas with his brothers at Greccio in 1223 with a Bethlehem scene which included live animals. This tradition quickly spread and people began to construct their own nativity scenes in their homes. Children take a great joy in helping to set up a nativity scene. Simplicity and beauty go often hand in hand. You may set up your entire scene at the beginning of Advent, leaving the crib empty for the Lord Jesus to arrive on Christmas Eve.
Advent Carols – The tradition of caroling is owed to Saint Francis as well. During Advent, we are still waiting. Our music should express this waiting and longing for the Messiah. There are many beautiful Advent Hymns.
Jesse Tree – Jesse Tree is an old tradition depicting the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical figures who were the ancestors of Jesus. Jesse was the father of King David. He is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus. For your own Jesse Tree, a branch can be placed into a pot or a large vase at the beginning of Advent and every day a new ornament can be hung onto it.
Preparing our homes – Our homes should reflect our readiness for Christ’s birth. Clean your home together, simplify, share. Children can help to prepare a box for the poor and the lonely. You can donate extra clothing and household items, bake cookies together and share them or save them for the joyous time of Christmas.
Preparing our hearts – Just as we prepare our homes, we should prepare our hearts. This is the time for a frequent sacrament of reconciliation, for a longer family prayer, and for lots of Advent reading together. This is the time when family can draw closer to the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation.