|The Advent wreath includes one candle for each Sunday|
during the season. Three are purple, but the third is rose-
colored to mark the halfway point until Christmas
Certainly, I grew up with the Christmas story of the little Baby Jesus laid in a manger, visited by Three Wise Men, heralded by angels, and all of that. I have caroled in the cold and participated in live manger scenes--I've played every role except the Baby Jesus; and I must say that I make a rather handsome Joseph.
So, it's not that I didn't know the "reason for the season," despite all of its secular trappings from evergreen trees to jolly ole elves sliding down chimneys, from white elephant gift exchanges to dropping coins in red kettles after spending hundreds of dollars on gifts for everyone I've ever known.
But, this idea of Advent is a new one for me. The liturgical year in the Catholic Church begins with this period of anticipation. Christ is coming and we must prepare for his arrival. Just as I have traditionally prepared my home with lights and baked goods, colorful packages and Santa figurines, I now am preparing my heart and my spirit for the "arrival" of the King of Kings. Of course, Jesus is not literally arriving on Christmas Day. (Scholars even seriously doubt that he was born in December.) He is always with us, but during this very special season, we recall that God became man in order to bring us all into eternal communion with him. As Catholics, Advent is also a time to remember that Christ will come again.
These four weeks of waiting and preparing that make up Advent are the true richness of this special time of year. There are many ways to observe this period of increased prayerfulness, fasting, and good works. In addition to my usual generosity to family and friends, I have greatly increased my charitable giving, buying gifts for elderly shut-ins and less advantaged teenagers, offering my contributions to other large-scale efforts like Toys for Tots and different canned food drives. Although fasting is not an option for health reasons in our home, we are observing leaner meals and offering greater appreciation for them. And, of course, we are using an Advent devotional that was provided by our parish. I'm also planning to find ways to mark the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Day through Epiphany.
For ideas about how you can expand your observance of Advent, About.com offers some helpful information. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also offers many resources, including a blessing for your Christmas tree.