SAN DIEGO — Dec. 25 will be here sooner than you think.
Advent, the liturgical season of joyful anticipation before Christmas, tends to go by in a flash, lost amidst twinkling lights and frenzied holiday shopping.
Janelle Peregoy, associate director of the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality, has some recommendations on how Catholic families can celebrate a meaningful Advent.
Advent begins this year on Sunday, Nov. 27. When many families think about the season, said Peregoy, their minds “immediately go to Advent wreaths and Advent calendars,” which are traditional ways of counting down the weeks and days until Christmas.
The Advent wreath consists of a ring of four candles, three purple and one pink. The first purple candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent. (In many churches, a blessing of the Advent wreath and the lighting of the first candle takes place the previous evening at the Saturday vigil Mass.)
An additional candle is lit on each successive Sunday until all four are aflame. The solitary pink candle is for the third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”), which will be observed on Dec. 11 this year; the pink color symbolizes joy over the fact that Advent is, by that time, more than halfway over.
“I love the idea of families perhaps taking Sundays as an opportunity to pray around the Advent wreath together,” said Peregoy, who noted that Catholic Advent prayers are just a Google search away and that child-friendly resources like the “MagnifiKid! Daily Advent Prayers” book are also easily available.
Pride of Place
The Christmas tree, with its lights and ornaments, often takes a prominent place in the home during the holiday season.
But Peregoy encourages parents to ensure that their Advent wreaths and Nativity sets are also afforded places of honor, not to be overshadowed by effigies of Santa Claus, reindeer and snowmen.
Another Kind of Tree?
The tradition of the Jesse Tree is inspired by a verse from the Book of Isaiah — “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse” — that prophesies the coming of Jesus.
Jesse was the father of the legendary King David, of whom Jesus was a descendent.
Throughout Advent, a Jesse Tree is adorned with ornaments, each of which represents one of Jesus’ ancestors from the Old Testament.
“It’s linked to the genealogy of Jesus, but different families do it in different ways,” Peregoy said of this tradition, which provides families with an opportunity to reflect on stories from the Bible.
Reclaiming the Sacred
“It’s totally cliché and overstated,” said Peregoy, “but Jesus is the reason for the season. … I think it should be a mantra for all of our families.”
The rest of the world might be playing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” but you might consider assembling a family playlist of Advent carols like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and some of the more Christ-centered Christmas songs like “Joy to the World” — and taking the time to explain to your children why.
She noted that home is “where we learn our faith,” and parents are “the first teachers.”
Almost everyone has heard of the Christmas tradition of “The Elf on the Shelf.” But Peregoy noted that families have a more religious alternative in “The Shepherd on the Search,” a tradition in which a plush figure of a shepherd is moved throughout the house every day of Advent, ultimately arriving at the Nativity scene on Christmas.
Peregoy advocates such “countercultural ways” to observe Advent.
Don’t Neglect the Saints
Every day of the year, whether we pay attention to it or not, is the feast day of a Catholic saint. Peregoy asks, Why not make a special effort to celebrate some of the feast days that fall in Advent?
Dec. 6, for instance, is the feast of St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop from modern-day Turkey who became the inspiration for the Santa Claus legend.
“A really fun thing to do with small children for St. Nicholas Day is a prayer and blessing over candy canes, because the candy cane is meant to symbolize a bishop’s staff,” Peregoy said.
Dec. 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation that celebrates how the Blessed Mother was free of Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of the United States.
Dec. 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, commemorating a series of Marian apparitions that took place in December 1531 in Mexico City. Some 9 million Aztecs converted to Catholicism within a decade of the apparitions. The famous image of the Blessed Mother that miraculously appeared on the tilma of St. Juan Diego is still venerated in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe almost 500 years later.
Annually, the diocese holds a colorful Our Lady of Guadalupe Procession and Mass to celebrate this feast day; this year, the event will be held on Dec. 4 in North Park, with Cardinal Robert W. McElroy celebrating the Mass.
Peregoy said families should use these and other feast days “as an opportunity to talk about our saints, which always lead us to a better understanding of who Christ is.”
Consider streamlining your holiday schedule, Peregoy advises. Be selective and perhaps don’t accept every “ugly Christmas sweater” and cookie-decorating party invitation you receive.
Some days, instead of going out, she said, your family might consider opting for an “afternoon at home in prayer.”
After all, she said, “Advent is (supposed to be) a time of peace, a time of quiet, a time of preparation.”
She quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict, who once said, “We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activity, sound; often, there is not even time to listen and dialogue … Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able, not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.”