My own family never observed Advent except as it related to church. Our church family held the four Sundays prior to Christmas in highest esteem. Decorations were put up before the first Sunday in Advent. There was always a "hanging of the greens" day when everyone who was able helped decorate the very large church that I attended. One year my mother and step-father donated the large Christmas tree by their house for the church tree. Once it was in place it was a feast for the eyes. I remember how proud they were to see that tree decorated.
My children are another story. We celebrated Advent in various ways. The favorite way was the manger scene. The stable went out first along with a box of pieces to create the traditional manger scene. The children took turns adding a piece each day with the Christ child added on Christmas morning. One of the funniest pieces in the manger scene was a small dog. I think that was one of the first pieces added each year. The dog came with my manger scene although I am not sure why. Gradually the children added cows and sheep from their toy barn to extend the pieces until the expected holiday.
We also had an Advent calendar. In my research I found out that the Germans were the ones who came up with the Advent calendar. In Germany Christmas was celebrated as a children's holiday. Advent wreaths were hung in homes with 24 small bags with special treats inside added. The children got a gift every day.
Gerhard Lang grew up with Advent wreaths decorated with candy. He took the process a step further. As the owner of a printing company he produced the first Advent calendar. By the end of World War II the tradition had spread to the U.S.
Each of my grandchildren has a modified Advent calendar. I found Carly's in a second-hand store. It has 24 numbered pockets. I found a small creche set. Her mother has added other things, but each year she puts out the pieces of her set. A lady from church gave each of the children a felt Advent decoration that she tied candy to. They certainly have sufficient reminders of when Christmas will arrive.
The word "advent" comes from the Latin adventus and the Greek parousia. It means coming. It refers to the first coming of Christ as an infant as well as the second coming that the Christian community still awaits. The season symbolizes the spiritual journey that individuals and congregations take. It is an affirmation that Jesus came once, but will come again. It serves as an invitation for Christians to take the same journey taken by the disciples as they experienced the death on the cross and the resurrection.
Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Our church was decorated after the church service last Sunday. Nearly everyone stayed to help. I am so thankful to be part of a small church. Everyone pitches in to help with whatever has to be done.
I know that the United Methodist Lectionary begins with the Advent season. There are three separate versions of scripture that rotate. Whenever I am called to speak I consult the scriptures for the day first to see what is suggested. I hope that one of them speaks to me so that I have a message for the day.
The Advent wreath is a tradition. One candle is lit each week of Advent. The first candle represents the prophets who foretold the story of Jesus' birth. The second candle represents the Bible and its message. The third candle is for Mary who accepted her lot as the mother of Jesus. On the last Sunday before Christmas the candle lit is for John the Baptist who told the world the Savior was coming. Many churches light a large white candle on Christmas day that represents Jesus.
In a book about where Christmas customs originated the author, Ace Collins, says, "When presented in the proper way, the way in which the early church intended, Advent also plants the spiritual seeds that grow into an understanding of the reason for this special season. Christmas is still Christmas without Advent, but the festive four-week countdown puts the holiday into the proper perspective."
I have quite a collection of Christmas books. Those came out over the weekend. During the Christmas season it is my mission to read most of them. They vary from fiction to nonfiction.
I love to re-read these books each year. The stories never get old. This year I began with a re-reading of my own Christmas book. I have a program to give before Christmas, and I needed to pick out the material that would be covered. I remember the thrill that the publishing of that book gave me. I waited until I had the book in hand to write about it because I needed to experience that thrill to get it just right.
The year my book came out one lady put it aside to read during Advent. She had a surprise when she realized how many stories there were to read. She did not finish before Christmas that year.
I have several collections of stories by Joe Wheeler. He did not write the stories; he simply collected them. There are many touching stories. Another book features writings by Thomas Kinkade I was saddened by his untimely death earlier this year. Still another one is a reflection on life by Ruth and Billy Graham.
One year when I went to New York City I found a book about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. That one was fun to read because I saw that tree.
A book that is new to me, but not new is by Louisa Mae Alcott. It is a nice collection of Christmas stories.
My favorite modern book is "The Christmas Shoes" by Donna Van Liere. If you are feeling sad this Christmas season, get a copy of this book to read. You just may realize how much you have to be thankful for.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.