Most people are familiar with Advent Calendars that count down the days from December 1st to Christmas. The colourful cardboard calendars that hide a wee piece of chocolate behind each of 24 tiny doors have been a staple for holiday seasons for at least as long as I’ve been alive. Advent wreaths and Advent Calendars build up anticipation over the holiday season.
Many people don’t actually know what Advent is. To give a little bit of context: In the Christian tradition, Advent is the season preceding Christmas. It is a time of preparation and anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was the time when the wise men followed the signs in the stars and traveled to where they would find the infant that embodied hope, new beginnings, light and love for humanity. It begins 4 Sundays before Christmas.
Each of those four Sundays has a theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
When you see Advent wreaths with four candles, this is what those candles signify.
I grew up in a German immigrant family and the Advent wreath was a part of our Christmas tradition. My parents didn’t actually talk about the significance of those candles… or if they did, I was definitely not listening. All I knew was that each week on Sunday morning, the candle for that week was lit along with the ones from previous weeks until they were all alight. I may not have really understood the symbolism or spiritual significance of it, but it definitely built up my anticipation for Christmas. My father expressed his artistry and creativity through a variety of Advent “wreaths”. Anticipating what new design he would come up with was part of the fun of the season for me.
Over the past few years, thanks to social media, I have seen many different incarnations of the Advent Wreath and Calendar. Each one has had a theme and the themes have been vastly varied. Not only are the calendars themselves varied but what people put in them is as well. From fine hand-made chocolates to trinkets to craft beers or local wines, every time I see a new one it makes me smile.
Every year when I see what people have done with this tradition it makes me want to make one too. Of course, by the time it’s on my radar, I don’t have time to actually pull it off without way more stress than I want associated with it. So much for planning! LOL! And every time I see a blog post where someone shows off their hand made Advent wreath or calendar, I find myself cheering for them. Cheering on their design, their creativity and their determination and perseverance. I have lost count of the number of times I have thought about making one and then decided not to.
And once you make the calendar… well… you have to fill it with something. Oh MY! That has the potential to become outrageously expensive!
And my point with all of this? Advent is about anticipation. You don’t have to break the bank to build anticipation. Hey, if you want to spend a whole bunch of money, I won’t stand in your way. All the power to you! There is absolutely no shame in spending money for the holiday season. That having been said, I most definitely advocate staying within your financial means. Heaven knows it’s easy to get carried away at this time of year.
I find that I really want to deliberately mark the Advent season in some way every year.
Perhaps it’s because it was a tradition in my childhood. Hope is the first theme of Advent. Hope is a profoundly amazing thing. No matter how tough things might get, the tiniest bit of hope is all we need to keep us going, keep us fighting and working our way out of whatever darkness we may find ourselves in. Let’s face it, I don’t care who you are, we all experience hardship in one way or another.
Not one of us is immune to suffering!
Hope is that light at the end of the tunnel that keeps us placing one foot in front of the other despite the despair that may fill us at times. That hope may come from the simplest of things, like having someone look directly into our eyes and smile at us from their heart. There is no way to know what another person is going through. What does it take to make eye contact with another person and smile? It takes nothing… and it feels good. I guess what I’m saying is I want to be a vehicle for hope. I want to notice when someone seems down. I don’t want or need to “fix” anyone. But I can notice them and recognize their humanity, recognize that they are suffering in some way.
I can offer them a smile from my heart.
Not out of pity, but out of solidarity: human to human! I can acknowledge their existence and my own. Goodness knows there have been times in my life when one smile gave me the hope I needed to not give up.
I want Christmas to heighten those things that I find most meaningful in my life. I know that like all those years before, I am not going to pull off a fancy Advent calendar this year. I really love the Advent season. I love everything about it. There is a part of me, a wide-eyed, wonder-filled little girl, deep inside me, that wants that sparkling anticipation every year. And often, I must admit, I leave her wanting. This year, I am starting off my Advent season by decorating my store. And there will be knitting… lots of knitting!