Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child, but in the midst of the pre-Christmas frenzy, it's easy to lose sight of the profound spiritual importance of the Advent season. Your greatest temptation during Advent will be scrimping on your spiritual needs because there are so many other things going on!
There are presents to make or buy, cookies to bake, cards to mail, parties to plan, gifts to wrap and trees to decorate. Even your parish can put demands on your time with choir practices, pageant rehearsals, candy sales, food collections for the poor and Advent evenings of reflection.
There's nothing wrong with pre-Christmas preparations. But it's important to balance the sacred part of the Advent season with all of the other things you are doing. If you don't make time for quiet reflection, prayer and conversion of heart, you will find yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted by Christmas Day. Your Christmas celebration will look perfect on the surface, but will feel spiritually unsatisfying. You will have a hard time experiencing the joy and peace that the Babe in Bethlehem brings.
The word "Advent" comes from the Latin Adventus, which means "coming." It is a time for quiet reflection, prayer and conversion in anticipation of the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The readings and the liturgies during Advent prepare us for the birth of Jesus, but they also prepare us for the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world. The season offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert as we await his Second Coming. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. It ends at sundown on Christmas Eve. Since Christmas falls on different days of the week, Advent can range in duration from 22 days when Christmas falls on a Monday to 28 days when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Advent marks the beginning of the Church year. Unlike the secular year, which marks the passage of time, the liturgical year celebrates the sacred mysteries of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The year begins during Advent in anticipation of the coming of Jesus with reflections on the Hebrew prophecies and the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah.
The purple or dark blue is a symbol of royalty that anticipates the coming birth of Jesus. It also reflects a spirit of penitence and the need to prepare our hearts. Pink is a secondary Advent color that symbolizes the joy of the season. The evergreens in the Advent wreath signify eternal life that comes to us through Jesus.
There are no longer any "official" days of fast or abstinence during Advent, but Catholics are encouraged to prepare themselves spiritually during Advent with voluntary acts of prayer, fasting, penance and almsgiving.
Posadas, a word that means "shelter" or "lodging," is an Advent custom in Mexico. It re-enacts Mary and Joseph's search for lodging as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The Posadas takes place over nine days, Dec. 16-24, which symbolizes the nine months of Mary's pregnancy. People go from house to house seeking lodging, but the "innkeepers" refuse to let them stay. On Christmas Eve, the travelers are finally welcomed at the last house where they celebrate the birth of Jesus. Read more
The Advent calendar started in Germany during the 1800s. Families drew a chalk line or lit a candle every night to mark the days until Christmas. Gerhard Lang produced the first printed Advent calendar, which contained small pictures that could be glued to a piece of cardboard each day. Read more
An Advent Chain is a way to mark the days through Advent. Cut one strip of purple construction paper for each day of Advent. Use a pink strip for the third Sunday of Advent and a white strip for Christmas. Read more
The true story of Santa Claus begins when Nicholas’ wealthy parents died in an epidemic while he was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you have and give to [the] poor” (Mt 19:21), Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was appointed bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need.
On the evening of Dec. 5, have children fill their shoes with pieces of a carrot or bits of hay for St. Nicholas’ white horse or donkey. Place shoes outside bedroom doors or on the hearth. See that a candy treat appears by morning on Dec. 6.
Read Thomas Craughwell's article "The Real St. Nicholas" and find out how Santa and St. Nicholas became ... confused. And here's an excerpt from "St. Nicholas: The Wonder Worker," by Anne E. Neuberger, "A Miracle Baby."
Did you know that St. Nicholas is also a protector of children? Find out this and more interesting facts and stories about Nicholas at www.stnicholascenter.org. Read more
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