Advent Traditions

Six crocheted red and white stockings hung on the mantle at my grandparents’ house from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. All the stockings were handmade by my grandfather’s sister, my Great Aunt Tut. Using a small hook and yarn she made hundreds of perfect loops and added a small Christmas tree and snowman to each one. She made a new stocking for each new family member, so my stocking was a brighter red than the rest, since I was the youngest by thirty years. The stockings were the first decoration to be put up, and they signaled the beginning of our family’s preparations for Christmas. It was time to get ready—Christmas was coming.

When Christmas day arrived, the stockings lay on the floor around the fireplace stuffed with apples, oranges, peppermint candies, a book, and some cash. Apples and oranges recalled for my grandmother treats she received as a child during the Depression. I can still remember sitting around the fire, pulling items out of the stockings with my family around me laughing and drinking coffee. I look forward to putting out our stockings the day after Thanksgiving to mark the beginning of our family’s Christmas preparations. Then on Christmas morning, I’ll fill them with apples, oranges, peppermints, and books before we fly east to see our families. This tradition tells my family’s Christmas story.

We all probably have some family tradition that marks the time leading up to Christmas. We make food that fills our home with the smells of the season. We daringly hang lights from our eves to mimic the effect of falling snow (even in Southern California). These practices tell a story: Christ is coming, the world will be filled with the light of life.

The Church for centuries has known that traditions help us tell stories through sights and smells and sounds and activities. The season of Advent (latin adventus: arrival, approach) began as a season to fast, pray, and prepare for the arrival of Christ. Over time the Church incorporated traditions such as lighting candles each week around the advent wreath. The growing circle of light tells the story of the light of God breaking in to our world, first by messengers foretelling God’s inbreaking kingdom and finally by God with us—Jesus Christ.

Like the stockings, lighting the wreath stirs up memories of Christmas’ past, reminding us of when the light of Christ has come to us.  The candlelight tells a story of anticipation. As the light grows each week, the anticipation builds. And each week’s candle represents different themes of the story—hope, peace, joy, and love. These themes are meant to become parts of our daily life as we wait. This season of Advent, I pray that we will all live with hope, practice peace, relish joy, and reach out with love as we tell the story of wonderful news: a Savior has come to us.

Pastor Ally

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