by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
What do you do – besides shopping – to prepare for Christmas? Anything that is really connected with appreciating the real meaning of Jesus’ birthday? What does Advent mean for you? How can we prepare well for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas? Are you familiar with any practices or customs that help make Christmas truly Christ-centered? Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Here are some ideas to consider personally, with your family, and with friends and colleagues. Do something really connected with the meaning of Advent to make Christmas truly Christ-centered. Set priorities.
Daily Reading and Reflection
Set aside ten minutes or more daily to read and ponder the inspired Word of God in the daily Mass readings or in other Old Testament and the New Testament stories that present the faith of the great characters, men and women, waiting in expectation for the coming of the promised Redeemer.
Receive Jesus in the Sacraments
Consider participating in Holy Mass several times during the week, or daily if possible. Take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to receive in Holy Communion the Jesus who became human like us to redeem us.
The penitential season of Advent is also a special time to receive God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Participate in a parish communal penance celebration.
An Advent Wreath
Each evening before the family’s main meal light the appropriate candles on an Advent wreath and offer a brief Advent prayer. This is a time-honored practice.
The symbolism of the wreath and candles presents an occasion for learning the meaning of this season. The color of the purple candles signifies the sorrow we feel for our sins, while the pink one indicates happiness for the imminent birth of Jesus. The evergreens symbolize the unchanging nature of God, and the circle indicates that God is eternal, without beginning or end. The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.
Play Kris Kringle
The spirit of caring and giving for another member of a family or group is another revered Advent custom. Each family member draws the name of another family member written on a slip of paper, for whom he or she will secretly play the role of Kris Kringle (Santa Claus), or Christkindl (the Christ Child). The person whose name was drawn is now in the special care of the Kris Kringle or Christkindl, who will perform acts of kindness for the person and perhaps offer a special gift at Christmas. On Christmas Eve each tries to guess who played Kris Kringle for them.
Other Advent Practices
Keep an Advent Calendar to count down the days until Christmas. A door or window is opened every day of Advent to reveal some aspect of the season in an image or text. Such a calendar can be purchased at a religious bookstore, or another option would be simply to mark each day on an ordinary calendar.
Make a Jesse Tree to trace the family tree of Jesus. This is done by making ornaments to symbolize the ancestors of Jesus, beginning with Jesse, the father of King David. The tree can be made of an actual limb, felt or burlap, or construction paper. Many can participate in such a project.
Putting Straw in the Manger is another Advent practice in which the family and other groups can participate. Each time a good deed or a work of mercy is performed a piece of straw is placed in the manger. Opportunities abound for doing good deeds or works of mercy for the needy at home, at school, at work, in the neighborhood, in the parish. The straw symbolizing our charity will provide a warm and comfortable crib for the Baby Jesus on Christmas morning.
Information and materials for Advent practices are generally obtainable at religious bookstores.
Used with permission.