Traditions. Every family has them. Even our Church has Traditions/traditions. While gathering my thoughts for this Advent reflection, I did some thinking on what had been traditions for Advent in my family as I was growing up. I don’t think I ever heard the term “Advent.” And the fact that there is a theme for each Sunday of Advent – Hope, Love, Joy and Peace – who knew? This came as a real surprise to me.
I certainly didn’t know it as the beginning of the Church year, or the symbolism of the wreath and the four candles. I am pretty sure there was no Advent Wreath in our house. We had no Christmas decorations on display. Christmas cards were not yet mailed. We didn’t even put up and decorate our Christmas tree until after dinner on Christmas Eve, and our family ate a pretty late dinner. It seemed as if we were the only house on the block with no outside Christmas decorations. We also seemed to be the only house on the block without a decorated Christmas tree. I just didn’t understand why we were so lacking in Christmas spirit when the neighbors had decorations and Christmas trees up since Thanksgiving. Why were we so different? What was it about this particular tradition that was so important?
Looking back I realized why we weren’t celebrating Christmas. We weren’t celebrating Christmas yet because it wasn’t Christmas! Our lack of decoration was a witness to our neighbors and friends that we were celebrating Advent! Don’t get me wrong, there were preparations. There was extra house cleaning, baking, and the singing of Advent songs, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” We may not have set out all the decorations, mailed those Christmas cards, yet our home was filled with anticipation.
For all of December we watched and waited. As children we couldn’t wait for the Sears Christmas Catalog, a.k.a. The Christmas Wish Book, to come. And when it did, we poured over it, picking out the things we wanted Santa Claus to bring us Christmas morning. I even went so far as to circle my choices, adding my name, and marking the size and color should that be needed so Santa didn’t mix me up with another child. And with the help of the Wish Book, we would write our letters to Santa, hoping to see our wishes granted. This was an Advent “tradition” celebrated by my sister, brother and myself.
A few nights before Christmas Eve, the neighborhood kids would get together and go house to house singing Christmas carols. This became a neighborhood Advent tradition amongst us kids. Can you imagine a group of ragtag youth who probably couldn’t sing a note, showing up on your doorstep and serenading you with two or three Christmas songs? We might have begun with “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” but would finish with “Do you Hear What I Hear.” I remember one year we had stopped at a house 5 blocks from our street and began singing. This older couple had answered the door with tears in their eyes. Turned out they had just received notice their son had died in Vietnam. They thanked us for stopping by and bringing them a bit of joy. We left with tears in our eyes but joy in our hearts for lightening their grief. The love of Christ we unknowingly shared with this family also gave us the peace of Christ.
After writing this Advent reflection I got to thinking. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to reflect on my Advent experiences. Maybe I was supposed to write something inspiring for other Youth Ministers. Maybe this reflection was supposed to be an idea for other Youth Ministers to use with their youth. Well dear Youth Ministers, go ahead; your turn. What were your family’s traditions during Advent? Share these traditions with your ministry. Ask your youth how their families celebrate Advent. Is there an Advent wreath in their home? How many have already put up the Christmas tree? Do they feel the anticipation of Christmas? Where is the hope in their family during Advent? How do they share the love and joy of Advent? Three of my grandsons make paper chains with a link for every day of Advent. A link is removed every evening at dinner time. Do this with your youth, having each person make their own personal Advent chain with a quote from the daily Readings.
Instead of a Christmas Party, consider an Advent adventure visiting the homebound in the parish – caroling with hot chocolate and cookies afterward. Consider asking the parish office for the names of families who had lost a family member during this year. You can make these families part of your Advent adventure by visiting them, making special Christmas cards, or inviting them to an Advent activity writing Christmas cards or decorating ornaments at the parish and serve hot chocolate and cookies. There are a million different ways you can hold an Advent adventure. And if you don’t have an idea of your own, check out Pinterest.
Whatever you opt to do, practical or spiritual, be sure it reflects the Hope, Love, Joy and Peace of the Advent season. Remember to keep watch and prepare for the coming of Christ. Rejoice and forever sing the goodness of the Lord. And CELEBRATE Advent.