Every year, many families anticipate the coming of Christmas with Advent calendars filled with chocolates or small presents and decorating their house with stringed lights. American-Catholic families tend to follow these secular traditions, but Catholics all over the world begin preparing for Christmas in the season of Advent.
Advent is derived from the Latin word for “coming.” It always begins four Sundays before Christmas. This year, the season of Advent begins on Nov. 29. As families are making Christmas lists, putting up Christmas trees and baking cookies for Santa, Catholic families are also using this time to pray and prepare.
Catholics are preparing for the coming of the Messiah. It’s a time of contemplation, silence, prayer and reading scripture. We are renewing our longing for a relationship with Christ. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”
Typically, a wreath with four candles is set out in Catholic homes for Advent. Each candle represents the one Sunday of Advent: three purple and one pink. The purple candles represent penance and the pink candle represents joy. The third Sunday, represented by pink, is traditionally called “Gaudete” Sunday. It’s a smaller celebration of the happiness to come on
Christmas Day. The evergreen wreath symbolizes the eternal life that God promises us in Heaven.
The idea of the Advent wreath itself comes from pre-Christian Germanic peoples that would light candles on wreaths as a prayer offering to bring back longer days and warmer weather. Christians adopted this practice in the middle ages, but it was not widely used until around 1600.
For my family, Advent is our favorite season of the year. It keeps us grounded in our faith when the secular world is making a fuss over who can buy the bigger or more expensive gift for Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation and gratitude for each other and our relationship with God. Every Sunday, we pray and read scripture together before we light the new Advent candle. It reminds us that, for our family, Christ is the reason for Christmas. He is the gift to the world on Christmas Day. We are called to prepare for Him, welcome Him into our lives and share His light with others.
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