BY REV. PAUL KELLY - ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Once Thanksgiving is over, the pace of life seems to pick up as preparations are being made for Christmas. We are occupied with shopping lists, Christmas cards, office parties, home decorating, making travel plans, among a multitude of other tasks.
Many Christian churches celebrate a season called Advent in the weeks before Christmas. The name Advent comes from a word that means "coming" and refers to the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and has as a theme the idea of waiting for something special to happen.
One will note that many of the Scriptural readings done in church during this time are from the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Micah. These readings capture a sense of longing that the people had in those days as they waited for the coming of the messiah, and this messiah would usher in a time of justice and peace.
One special tradition of the Advent season is the Advent wreath. According to one source, this tradition was started in 19th century Germany by a Lutheran pastor who got tired of the children always asking “Is it Christmas yet?” — much like modern day children ask their parents when traveling "Are we there yet?"
He made a ring of wood and put about 20 small red candles on it as well as four large white ones. The red candles counted the days, and the white ones counted the Sundays. With each passing day, another candle would be lit, and thus the children could easily see just how many days remained until Christmas.
A typical modern day Advent wreath has four candles, three purple ones and a pink one. The pink one represents the 3rd Sunday of Advent which has a more joyous theme to it than the other Sundays.
In today's world many Christians lament just how commercialized Christmas has become and it can be easy to forget the spiritual significance of Christmas. The use of an Advent wreath in the home can help children focus on the true meaning of Christmas, especially if it is accompanied by a weekly lighting ceremony and a brief prayer.