Scrambling to celebrate Advent

December 3, 2007 | 30 comments

As I walked into our beautiful church yesterday, I heard glorious music waft through the building, noticed a lovely purple candle burning near the altar, and saw our priest in a rich purple robe. And in a moment of saint-like spiritual maturity, I thought:


In typical fashion, I really wanted to observe Advent this year but have done nothing about it. I don’t even know what it is. So, determined to finally incorporate this mysterious part of the liturgical year into our family traditions, I am going to begin reading up on this season and frantically scrambling to celebrate it, however one does that.

Lucky for me, Catholic Exchange is starting a great series called Renewing the Mystery of Advent (hat tip to the Order of Preachers blog) in which they’ll post an article and a video each week. Here is the first article and the first video. I plan to check them out later today.

Also, I’m offering a $1, 000, 000 prize* to anyone who can summarize Advent in 25 words or less (bonus if you can summarize what the wreath symbolizes in the same number of words). In the past I have actually read some discussion of what this season is all about, but they tend to be very detailed, and as a new convert (and generally dense person) I always manage to walk away without a clear understanding of the basics.

So, I hope everyone is having a blessed Advent…and I hope to soon understand what having a blessed Advent involves.

* Unfortunately I don’t actually have $1, 000, 000. How about instead of a monetary reward I’ll say “You did a great job of describing Advent in 25 words or less!” Who even wants a million dollars if you can have that?


  1. Red Neck Woman

    Think of Advent as the time before just dawn. In this time we remember the time before the Nativity, and remember that we also are waiting for his Second Coming. Our preparation for His Nativity should mirror our preparation for His Second Coming.

    Ok so that was 43 words. I lose. [grin]

  2. Veronica Mitchell

    I am writing an Advent series on Sundays, and then I’ll do the Twelve of Christmas.

    Here’s my first Advent post.

  3. Jenny

    Advent is the Church’s version of the snooze button. Shaken from our sleep in the still dark upon waking, we have a short time to collect our thoughts and ready our hearts, preparing for what is to come. We know how much time we have, and we can choose how and whether we’ll use the time before the main event…

  4. Kate

    Wreath: everlasting Life. Candles: Light of the world. Season: joyful anticipation and preparation for spiritual rebirth.

    How’s that for pathetically abbreviated? Seriously, Advent is my favorite time of the liturgical year – it’s SO rich with joyful yet penitential preparation. Not that it’s somber, or that it’s a surprise that Jesus is to be born (I think we expect that part) – but rather a time of true reflection “as we wait with joyful hope for the Coming of the Savior”.

  5. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Advent means “to come” (I learned that in Latin class with the girls, via the Our Father). We use this as a time of waiting for Christ, preparing our hearts, and examining our consciences. It’s actually a bit of a penetential season. (Wait ’til next week’s Gospel – Saint John the Baptist’s remarks don’t exactly sound like a Christmas card greeting.)

    The wreath is actually really cool. Remember St. John the Baptist, saying, “I must decrease so He can increase”? Well, John the Baptist’s feast day (his birthday) is near the longest day of the year, and as you get closer to the birth of Christ, the days become shorter. (decrease!) Then, after Jesus’ birthday, the days become longer. (Christ the Light of the World!)

    The wreath, as we light it, gives more and more light, symbolizing that we are getting closer and closer to Christ, the True Light of the World! Hooray! (It’s okay to jump and clap here. Makes it fun for the kiddies.)

    You can add a white candle to the three purples and one pink one on your advent wreath. (That’s the Christmas candle. I need to get one.)

    Also, you can go to the Dollar Tree and buy a wreath, four votive glasses, and four candles and just set them on the table. I’ve got some big ol’ candles so I can light them all day. We pray, then light, then sing (oops forgot that this morning) “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel”, then do our Jesse Tree. (Just started that this year.)

    Sorry for more than 50 words. I love Advent. 🙂

    You can also make a paper wreath and let the toddler tape the flame on each Sunday. We did that when the girls were little. They each had a wreath taped on their bedroom wall, and they got to put up little paper flames every Sunday. 🙂

    Oh, golly, I have diarhea of the mouth! And I can’t spell, either.

  6. Joe Magarac


    The advent wreath follows the church calendar: purple candles when the priest wears purple; pink when he wears pink.

  7. Kate

    Advent is a time to prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s nativity and prepare for his coming again.

    Ahah! 18 words!

    I’m afraid I need more than that to explain the wreath, though it’s really pretty simple:

    The Advent Wreath is a traditional and pretty way to mark the passage of Advent. The color of the candles matches the liturgical colors. Purple for penance and atonement, rose for joy and expectancy. The pink comes on Gaudete (‘Rejoice’) Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, to mark the halfway point on our way to Christmas.

    Another great way of marking advent is to keep a Jesse Tree (you can also use your Christmas tree as a Jesse tree during advent, and then change the ornaments on Christmas Eve). The Scripture readings used in the Jesse tree tradition are a lovely way to review salvation history and God’s promises as we prepare for Christ’s coming. If your kids are at all crafty, they might really enjoy preparing a Jesse tree.

  8. Lydia Cubbedge

    Advent is a time of preparation and penance before the Nativity. Not only do we prepare for Christmas, we also reflect on the second coming. The wreath is a countdown, with the purple candles symbolizing penance and reflection, the rose candle symbolizing the great joy just around the corner (it’s lit on the Sunday before the last Sunday in Advent and it’s called Laetare Sunday, meaning “to rejoice”), the greenery of the wreath symbolizing eternal life. This isn’t 25 words. Oh well 🙂

  9. CV

    Jen, what about: Think back to the preparation for the birth of your children (not just the difficult parts). Mary prepared for the birth of Jesus too!! We only considered this on the birth of our 3 child. CV

  10. Letum

    During Advent, we remember Christ’s Incarnation, and await His return. Advent Wreath candles are lit progressively each week, signifying Divine Light coming into the world.

    There you go, exactly 25 words.

  11. Darwin

    Do we get extra points if the description is also a haiku?

  12. Whimsy

    The notion of “Oh Crap It’s almost Christmas and there is X number of things I have to do” is one way the Joy of the Season gets sucked dry.

    Try not to think of Advent as “just one more thing I have to do in December.”

    And, puhleez, don’t think that you have to do EVERYTHING that are traditional Advent activities. You don’t have to do the Jesse Tree and the Advent Wreath and the Advent Calendar and St. Nick’s Day and St. Lucy’s Day and Our Lady of Guadalupe and (well, okay; you do have to celebrate Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception by going to Mass). Now, all of these are great, but it is okay if they aren’t done all in one year.

    Also, your children, as I understand, are yet very small. If they are too small to “do” candles, maybe save the wreath for when they are older. If they squirm for the readings of the Jesse Tree, save that. They’d probably like a chocolate advent calendar, though. . .

    And, if it doesn’t happen for Advent this year, the 12 days of Christmas START on Christmas day, and you can always do something fun at that time instead, if December is too hectic to add one more thing.

    You’re a young mom with lots of babies. It’s enough if the littles love Our Lord and His Mother in their pure little ways.

  13. Matt Gardocki

    “Oh crap! It’s Advent!” actually sums it up pretty well. 😉

    Advent in 25 words:

    Christ is coming! Are we ready to meet him? What would we like to change about ourselves before we meet him? Prepare the Lord’s way!

    Advent Wreath in 25 words:

    The wreath represents the fullness of time, the fulfillment of Salvation History. The candles denote the weeks in Advent. Purple for penance, pink for joy.

  14. JP

    Advertising that we could win a “Major Award” coukd get you out of the false advertisement predicament and give a smile to pop culture junkies.

  15. Faithful Catholic

    Advent = anticipation of the Greatest Gift Ever Given and preparation of our souls to receive Him.

  16. Milehimama

    Advent is the preparation for the coming of Christ – both the Christ child and the second coming. Hence the purple (penance), and the pink (joy).

    The wreath symbolizes the rut I’m in (Christmas memories to make? Already? AGAIN?) as I attempt to squash my Martha Stewart dreams and embrace chaos.

    Ok, maybe not, but that was 25 words.

  17. Teresa

    During Advent we are anticipating … waiting for and preparing for the birth of Jesus.

    Advent is my very very favorite time of the liturgical year, other than the Easter Vigil service itself. All my kids love Advent. Here is how we celebrate Advent at our house:

    Last night we made the wreath and had a short blessing of the wreath. The youngest child able lights the first candle, and we pray: “O Lord, stir up Thy power, we beg Thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and be saved by thy deliverance …” (We use this same prayer each day at the candle-lighting for the first week. There are different prayers for each week.)

    Then we have a reading from the Bible. We use a list of readings that we got a few years ago from my son’s first grade teacher … but there are lists available online too, if you do a search. The readings start at the beginning of Genesis and end with the birth of Jesus in Luke.

    After readings, we sing some songs. My older son plays the piano and/or my husband plays the guitar … we sing Christmas carols. I know lots of people don’t believe in singing Christmas carols until Christmas actually arrives … but we do. How better to anticipate the birth of Jesus?

    Then the kids open the doors of the Advent calendars. We have one with magnetic nativity figures that they place on a board, one with scripture verses behind the windows, and another one which changes from year to year because people tend to give us Advent calendars.

    I love our Advent ritual – seeing how happy my kids are with the candles and songs. This year, I’m trying to plan a way to continue with some sort of evening ritual next year. We can use the daily Mass readings.

  18. Jennifer F.

    Darwin: the answer to your question is yes.

  19. lyrl

    I loved Advent calendars growing up. You get something special and surprising every day!

    My mother also encouraged me to pick a Bible verse to read each week from the stories of Jesus’ birth. Our whole family would be around the table to light the advent candles while I got to read my verse.

    That was all we did, and it sure left me with happy memories. As others have said, don’t try to do everything (and you’ve written about this in recent posts, too). Just pick one or two things, and enjoy 🙂

  20. Sarah

    For extra points:

    Waiting, Preparing
    Our hearts for joy, hope and light
    The King’s birth is nigh!

    I blogged about this a few days ago . . . it is our first Advent too!

  21. Sarah

    Oh and the wreath:
    Green branches remind us of the new life we have in Jesus, the circle represents the eternity of God’s love for us and the candles represent the light and hope that Jesus brings into a dark world.

    I think that is over 25 words, but just barely!

  22. asv

    Advent is a time hope, just as the people of Israel awaited the Mesiah, a time to signal his imminent coming like John the Baptist did, but mostly (and you can relate to that) a time to wait silently as Mary awaited the birth of her son…
    It’s also a time to be a child again…
    I had the joy of living a couple of advents where we read advent stories and sang advent songs (not Christmas Carols) when we lighted the advent wreath each Sunday. The Christmas tree and the Manger Scene were just put up when the Christmas Novena started… It’s my favorite time of the year. And so I always am very nostalgic and a little dissapointed when “Christmas” starts after Halloween…

  23. Bekah

    We started a new family tradition this year. I found a box rather resembling a manger, and a baby doll that will fit inside. In preparing for the hard manger to receive the Christ child, we need to fill the manger with hay. So we cut strips of construction paper wide enough to write a short sentence, and give Jesus gifts from our heart. Each time we serve each other or say extra prayers, we can write our gift to Jesus on the paper and place it in the manger. By Christmas Eve our manger should be full and ready to welcome Christ, just as our hearts should be prepared and ready to receive Him.

  24. Melanie B

    The king is coming. He’s staying at your house. This unprecedented visit calls for a celebration. What are you doing to prepare?

    Advent is getting your spiritual house in order so that you are prepared to welcome the newborn king.

  25. Lauren

    Everyone has such good answers, but I wanted to add mine, too. It’s only 6 words, and it’s stolen from a Christmas song you already know:

    “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

  26. Abigail

    Advent means: A baby is coming! Not just any baby, our Messiah. Quick, get your heart and house ready for a visit from the king of kings.

    Wreath: These are the “count-down” candles for
    Jesus’ birthday. (My explaination to my 3 year old. My favorite line “on your birthday you get presents. On Jesus’ birthday EVERYONE gets presents.)

  27. Melanie B


    I just found this quote today:

    “Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…

    It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

    –Cardinal Ratzinger, Seek That Which Is Above

    via Willa at In a Spacious Place

  28. Anonymous

    If you buy a “fake” Advent wreath and then go out and gather greenery and stick it in, it looks really good and is pretty quick for a mother with three babies. Put a plate covered with foil under the candles (so they won’t spill wax on your table but the plate won’t look like a plate). Drape a purple ribbon around it. Think about Saint John the Baptist proclaiming the Lord’s coming. You’re already doing Advent by trying to avoid being irritated.
    Jane M

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