“Is everything loaded?”
“Yes, except the casserole in the oven.”
From my birth until my oldest was in junior high, we woke at dawn on Christmas morning, said a prayer of thanks, opened gifts and then loaded up in the family car for a two- to three-hour trip one way for a family get together. No complaints. Not for long anyway.
As a mom, I would read stories, bring some travel games and then one or two Christmas-themed movies to finish the ride. Everyone viewed Dec. 25 at noon as THE family tradition. That is, until more cousins were married and people lived farther away and work or weather prevented travel for some.
We have other traditions like the great debates over the perfect Christmas tree, censoring what ends up in our annual Christmas card, attending midnight Mass (scheduled for 9 p.m. this year) on Christmas Eve.
But each of these traditions, and more, have been modified at some point in our family history.
In fact, as I reflect on our traditions, all the ‘traditions’ have been modified or evolved except one, the Advent Wreath. It marks a time of expectation and mounting excitement for the big reveal of Christ’s birth and our opportunity to reconnect with God.
There is something magical about seeing the wreath at church with its three purple candles and lone pink candle in the circle and often a white candle in the center. The evergreen circle to represent life eternal. The candles each a symbol: hope, love, joy and peace with Christ’s candle in the center.
The first candle has also been known for prophecy – “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway, a highway for our God.”
In a sense, we are all spiritual road builders. Advent is a reminder to me that God created each one of us with different talents and circumstances so we can pursue His will wherever we are. Our present is His gift. And our purpose is to light or pave the way to Him.
As a family, we keep an Advent wreath on our dining table. On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of hope and then we each write down an intention we have to bring us closer to Jesus by the time Christmas comes.
Then we share with each other what hope we have for our family during Advent. The written intentions are stored away until Christmas morning. But the hopes are things we act on together like more family game times, less arguing, more meals around the table instead of the kitchen island.
The wreath we use is metal with engraved images, symbolic of key scripture verses that foretell the coming of Jesus from Genesis through the Gospels.
Beginning Dec. 1, after the debate over who gets to be fourth (being last is the best because they are the first to welcome Baby Jesus), the children each take turns opening a door on an Advent calendar that has a scene of a stable.
Behind each wooden door is a character or element, like the Star of Bethlehem, that appears in traditional images of the nativity. Magnets let them stay in place until one child decides another’s cow should be up in a hay loft or an angel should be directly above where the baby will lay in a manger, or a wise man should be on the camel not walking beside it.
Life is about hope and effort, not perfection. Inevitably, there is still arguing, but it is quickly settled with a reminder of why we celebrate this time.
We cannot change what happened yesterday, we can only develop the gifts He gave us in the present, with the hope of creating or transforming to something more positive tomorrow. Advent will always be a special tradition in our home as we look to Christ’s arrival on Christmas morning.
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