Every home is likely to have a Christmas tree. Almost every home would have a ‘belen’ or Nativity set. I wonder — how many homes have an Advent wreath with candles similar to what you see lit in churches during the Sundays of Advent?
And mind you, this is not just for display!
From the 1st Sunday of Advent till Christmas Day — EVERY NIGHT to the extent possible — our family gathers around this table, lights the candles (purple, purple, pink, purple — in that order — from the 1st to the 4th weeks), join in the Advent prayers for the day from a prayer book, and sing the Advent songs.
C1 was still a toddler when we began this family tradition and it worked its way down the line to our youngest, M2. Each year as the kids grew older, we continued this Christmastime custom and witnessed how they grew with it. When they were toddlers, we lit the candles for them and they would argue over who got to blow out the candle/s that night.
When they learned to read, we assigned portions of prayers to them until they were old enough to read (and lead!) the prayers in its entirety. In fact, C1 insists that M1’s reading abilities improved a lot during the time he was made to read from the prayer book (can you imagine some of the Bible words and names he had to learn to read as an early grader?).
One by one, they learned to light the candles (M1 recalls his first time after he completed a scouting camp). And all of them can sing the 2 songs from memory. In their earlier school years, when ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ was first taught either in Music or CLE classes, it would surprise their teachers that they knew the lyrics and tune right off. More so would be the surprise of friends upon learning that we all could sing the lesser known song ‘O Come Divine Messiah’.
A personal part of the rite was the intercessory portion. To the chorus of “Lord, hear our prayer”, we made the rounds of everyone. Each kid was given time to offer up his/her intentions for the day. When they were younger, we would get prayer intentions like: “I hope I get a ________ for Christmas” (hint! hint!). Eventually we got more serious intentions: “I wish I could pass my test tomorrow…” and lately, some of the intentions have gone outward: “I want to lift up my classmate who is sick of ______.”
The climax, of course, is something we do as an extra. On Christmas Day, we light a WHITE candle which stands in the center of the other 4 candles, waiting just for this one day to be lit. The 2 songs are no longer needed as the Christ Child is already with us. So instead, we sing a Christmas song.
It warms my heart that despite their being in this so-called “rebellious, defiant” teen years, we could not go through a Christmas without setting up these candles on our table. They themselves look for it, as though our Christmas cannot be complete without it.
Years from now, when they begin to have their own families, I hope and pray that they carry on this timeless tradition — another family memory and treasure for their own children to have.
And I believe that for as long as these candles of hope continue to be lit, our problems and that of our country and the world will not seem too hopeless. There is a God who continues to come to us, to our country, and to our homes under all situations, good or bad.