Friday, December 7, 2012

The Season of Advent ~ A Family Tradition

 ~ The Promise of Hope ~ 

The celebration of Advent has always been a favorite family activity since it brings the element of unity and the ever-present promise of hope for the future in such a significant way. 

We live in such a fast-paced, electronic world, today,  the traditions that generate a fusion of generational relationships become more precious, especially in such a mobile society complicated by vast geographical distances. So, yes, I am grateful for all opportunities to spend special times together.

Everyone in our family loves all holidays but Christmas in particular seems to exceed all others.  In earlier years, when our children were very young, I was quite impressed with the importance of establishing our own family traditions along with those of my husband’s and my family, growing up.

Always ready to welcome the opportunity for family time and share family history, it was a privilege, as well, to impart the spiritual importance of the holiday to our children, as well as create lasting memories of warmth and love and fun that are a part of our own family holiday customs.
My impression has always been that family is one of the most important and inspiring gifts that one is blessed with, despite any challenges along the road. 

At this point of our lives, we have many traditions that each member of our family remembers and are quite vocal as they insist on these events every year with absolutely no risk of it becoming tedious.  The expected array of comforting food choices on the menu, the music selections and style of decor is embraced with fervent anticipation early in the season.
These significant occasions throughout the years have brought many memories of joy that are absolutely priceless.

One of these traditions includes the Advent Wreath and Advent Calendar.

~ Here is a brief overview of Advent and how we celebrate Advent in our home.  

The important thought is to make it your own where it complements your family and above all make it a fun learning experience, enjoyable for everyone. 

As the Advent ceremony begins we start with the family meal at the dinner table at sunset by candlelight, including special readings and songs.  

What is Advent  ~

The meaning of Advent is ‘to come’ or ‘arrival'.  

Pre-Christianity ~
Although we recognize Advent as a Christian tradition, the Advent wreath was actually a symbol in northern Europe prior to Christianity.  The circle represents the perpetual cycle of the four seasons as the evergreens and candles represent life in the midst of winter.

Christianity ~ 

Since Christmas is all about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in His First Advent and the anticipation of the return of Christ in His Second Advent, it is fitting that the 

Advent wreath and calendar is used to keep track of how many days until Jesus Birthday.

Advent often symbolizes a time of deep reflection taking us on a spiritual journey as we encounter a renewed spirit of hope and expectation in our lives throughout the season. 

Traditionally, the Lighting of the Advent Candles has been observed in Churches around the world during the season of Advent for hundreds of years.  
Likewise, it can be honored at home, as well as provide an enjoyable occasion to teach children the spiritual observance as well as establishing a new tradition.

When is Advent ~

 As the Christmas season approaches around the time of Thanksgiving we begin preparations for the Advent Season typically beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  

Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays.

This year, the First Sunday of Advent is December 2, as we are fortunate to have an extra week due to an early Thanksgiving.  
Second Sunday of Advent ~ December 9
Third Sunday of Advent ~ December 16
Fourth Sunday of Advent ~ December 23

The Colors of Advent  ~

Although the colors of the candles can vary depending on varying Church traditions, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple, which signifies penitence and fasting, as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King.  The purple is used the first two weeks of Advent. 

The third week marks a shift to pink, which indicates the celebration of the season.
In Protestant churches blue is used to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent.  
Royal Blue often symbolizes royalty. 

Red and Green are associated with secular Christmas colors which derives from older European customs using evergreens and holly to symbolize life and hope.

There are several ways of observing Advent at home, the Advent Wreath, the Advent Calendar or the Candy Cane Calendar.

The Advent Wreath ~
The Advent wreath is symbolic and recounts the Christmas Story. It is made from evergreen branches symbolizing hope and eternal life, shaped in a circle which 
represents everlasting life. 

*In England an Advent Yule Log was used which is simply a log that held 4 candles evenly spaced.

~ The Candles

The Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son.

There are four outer candles on the wreath that represent the interval of time during the four Sundays of Advent.  The four Sundays of Advent symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.  

Each candle represents the name relating the specific themes for biblical readings for each week in Advent.  

Although the colors of the candles can vary dependent on varying traditions.  In many instances the colors used are two purple, two pink with the white in the center.  

On the first Sunday of Advent, one of the candles is lit, a Scripture is read, a short devotional or reading is given, and a prayer offered. 
On subsequent Sundays, previous candles are relit in addition to the current candle.  
 The pink candle is usually lit on the third Sunday of Advent.
Based on the tradition of a particular Church, the pink candle is lit on different Sundays based on their symbolism. 

* I often use red candles for each week and a white candle in the center for the Christ Candle.

The Ceremony: 
Traditionally, the Advent wreath is placed on a kitchen or dining room table to be lit during meals and continue with the devotions. 
 It may also be displayed in a central location where it can serve as a Christmas decoration.
The Scripture Readings are all about the prophecies about the coming of Jesus.

The First Week ~
At the beginning of the ceremony, we light the First Candle, The Prophecy Candle to mark the beginning of Advent.  
The Scripture reading is Isaiah 11:1-6.  Hymn: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

The Second Week ~ 
We light the First candle and Second Candle- The Bethlehem Candle. 
The Scripture reading is Luke 1:26-38.  Hymn: “O, Little Town of Bethlehem”

The Third Week ~
We light the First, Second and Third Candle- The Shepherds’ Candle, which represents the sharing of the good news of Christ’s coming.
Traditionally the third candle is Pink or Rose and symbolizes Joy.  
The Scripture read is Luke 2:8-20.  Hymn: “Go, Tell it on the Mountain”

The 4th Week ~
We light the First, Second, Third and Fourth Candle- The Angel Candle (the Candle of Christmas Remembering) which symbolizes God’s love for the world and a reminder to share God’s love.  
The Scripture reading is Acts: 1:1, 2, 4-11. Hymn: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”

Christmas Eve ~
We light all four of the Candles, except the Center Candle.
The Scripture reading is Matthew 1:18-2:12. Hymn: “Silent Night”

Christmas Day ~
Today we will light all the candles on our Advent Wreath including the Fifth Candle-in the center - The Christ Candle.  
The Scripture reading is Luke 2:1-20.  Hymn: “Joy to the World”

*After Christmas Day, all five candles may continue to be lighted on Sundays through Epiphany (Jan 6).

~ Advent Calendar:

The Advent Calendar is a fun way to help count the days until Christmas. 

 It also provides a nice Christmas decoration with a hidden surprise behind every window that one opens for each day. 

~ Candy Cane Calendar:

This particular type is the easiest to add in your daily schedule by simply using store bough Candy Canes in a container. You will need about 25 candy canes, to hang one for each day of Advent until Christmas Day. 

The kids really have fun with this one, as they try to sneak some of the candy canes. 

There are many variations on this ceremony, for example there is a lighting of the candles and a scripture reading for every night of the week throughout the season.

However, due to the size of our family and schedule restrictions, we opted to celebrate together on the four Sundays of Advent and include weekdays accordingly.  

The focus is to include the traditions that work for your family and enjoy the season and especially enjoy and appreciate your family.... and of course, share those family histories.

Merry Christmas!! and Happy Holidays!!

*Sources for further reading: 
-'Family Activities for the Christmas Season' ~ by Karen Spies
-'The Advent Instructor: Reflections on Christmas Symbolism' ~ by Kenneth A. Mortonson
Catholic Online - The Advent Wreath Seasons and Holidays
The Voice- Biblical and Theological Resources...

Photo credit: Traditional Home magazine: 
Photographer; Eric Roth, 
Interior designer: Richard Bradshaw and Matt Overstreet

 "May your footprints today, leave a treasured legacy tomorrow"

Copyright © 2012 Marilyn Poole /The Genealogy Gap