Playing the Farmer in the Dell is one of my fondest memories of nursery school. Eating graham crackers on a brown paper towel and drinking milk out of a tiny Dixie cup were the highlight of my first school experience at age four. My class met three mornings a week in the basement of my family’s church. I found the whole experience to be very magical.
I spent every Sunday morning in the Episcopal church. There was a child size Nave with small pews and kneelers where the Priest would hold the children’s service. We would then be dismissed to our various age related Sunday School classes. The Sunday School Advent curriculum at Christmas was always fun and crafty.
The first Sunday in Advent included making an Advent wreath in which to place four candles. The Sunday School candles were made out of toilet paper tubes. The four candles represent the four Sundays of Advent and they respectively symbolize hope, peace, joy, and love. In some parishes, people will add a fifth candle to represent the birth of Jesus Christ; this candle is typically white and larger than the other candles and is placed in the center of the wreath.
The Celtic Advent calendar begins November 15 and extends through the feast of Epiphany. In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the forty days before Christmas. As a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter.
In the Christian liturgical year, Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. Las Posadas, which means “The Inns” is a traditional Advent/Christmas celebration in Latin America, particularly Mexico. Las Posadas dates back more than four hundred years to Spain when Catholic priests found they could best teach many of the biblical stories by using drama. Las Posadas traditionally is celebrated for nine nights from December 16 to December 24, culminating in the Christmas Eve worship service. It is designed to reenact the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and search for lodging. Las Posadas invites one to imagine the experiences of individuals seeking asylum or refugee status.
Christ was born into a weary world. King Herod ruled the land with a legacy of ruthlessness. The Romans treated the people of Israel with contempt, imposing harsh taxes and land seizures that forced many into subsistence farming. Poverty and destitution were pervasive. There might be some parallels to our current world situation.
How does a weary world rejoice? With Advent beginning on December 3, we are reminded to step back from the busyness of our days, into a place of calm and reflection. We acknowledge our weariness, we find joy in connection, we allow ourselves to be amazed, we sing stories of hope, and we comfort ourselves with the rituals of the season.
Christmas was always enchanting in my Wyoming childhood, the layer of freshly fallen snow added to the magic. The children’s church service on Christmas Eve was very exciting. The smallest children were dressed as angels, with tinsel halos and paper wings, the older children were dressed as Mary, Joseph and the three Wise men in the Nativity play. At the end of the service children would carry Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus to the crèche at the chancel area near the altar. The congregation would sing Oh Holy Night and Joy to the World. The choir would depart down the center aisle singing Silent Night and the church bells would ring, signaling the end of the service.
My family would then return home to a beautifully laid table with a Christmas Cracker at each place. Adding to the magic, wearing our colorful paper crowns, we’d eat our dinner of Yorkshire pudding and a standing rib roast by candlelight. After dinner, we would open all of our presents, which usually included a new winter coat, a special book, and pajamas. My Mom would play the piano and we would sing Christmas carols before bed. We’d check the sky several times in search of Santa’s sleigh, the moon always shining bright.
Santa brought the most wonderful toys on Christmas Day, carefully placed near the tree with our hand knit, filled stockings. We’d always receive exactly what we asked for and then some, one year there was a life size log cabin in the living room, another year, Santa had poured an ice skating rink on our patio. My wonderful parents acted surprised and delighted at each of our gifts from Santa.
The Advent season is an invitation for us all to choose to set aside the fear and uncertainty that has defined 2023. It’s a chance to take the focus off the hustle of the Christmas season, have hope, and live in love and peace.