The Advent and Christmas seasons are times when families draw upon traditions — some going back generations — that seek to prepare us for the coming of the savior in our lives and our hearts to be that place where the Christ child can reside and live.
Families, for instance, light Advent wreaths, create Advent chains, open Advent calendars, hang stockings on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), erect crèches, observe the “O Antiphons” for the last days of Advent.
In our family, on Christmas Eve evening, after sharing the traditional Italian meal of seafood over linguine, we line our driveway and walkways with luminarias (made from small paper bags weighted down with sand and illuminated from within by lighted votive candles) to shine the way of the spirit of the Christ child to our home and into our lives.
Just after my father died in late 2009, our family sought ways to come together to comfort, to support, to dry each other’s tears and to look beyond the pain to the future. Yet, the first task was to make it through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays without the person who was such a presence in our lives.
In many ways, we’re reliving that time, as we recently lost our “sister,” my brother’s wife, without warning at age 51.
Yet, we drew on that new tradition of gathering together as a family to place the ornaments, collected over decades and all associated with events in our lives, on our live Christmas tree.
Each ornament has a special history, tied to special times, and together they represent the story of our family.
Watching my 86-year-old mother and 88-year-old aunt last week hang each ornament with care, holding these bits of our history, of the love we share and the people and places and events that impacted our lives, was so moving, so life affirming.
Our evening of telling stories associated with each ornament, sharing together memories of my father and my sister-in-law, of hanging ornaments about the first Christmases of our sons and grandson was one of real joy. We realized how blessed we are, even in the midst of grief, to have each other and to have enjoyed those who are now past.
St. Anthony Messenger Press Books has an easy-to-use resource for parents and other adults who want practical ways to celebrate the holy character of the Church’s liturgical seasons with prayers and creative hands-on activities.
In Celebrating Saints and Seasons, author Jeanne Hunt, a director of product development at Franciscan Media, grandmother, artist and catechist of many years, urges us during Advent to “retrieve this quiet season for our hearts and homes.”
Children and adults, she said, “can rediscover the wealth of Advent traditions that turn their eyes away from television commercials for the latest … fads and back to Jesus and the values of his gospel.”
What are the traditions that your family draws upon during Advent to prepare for the Christ child?
Photos by Mark Lombard