Given everything that has happened in 2020, everyone is understandably excited for Christmas this year.
Christmas may look different: fewer parties, less traveling, and sadly, not as many gatherings with family. But we can also view this socially distant, quieter Advent and Christmas as a time to slow down and be intentional.
One way we can do that is to fill our homes and hearts with symbols of Advent and contemplate their meaning as we await the joy of Christmas.
Advent is a season of waiting. While the rest of the world essentially starts celebrating Christmas in mid-November (or even earlier!), the Catholic Church sees the wisdom in having a season of waiting, anticipation, and penance during the weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas as preparation.
Advent helps prepare our hearts, clearing out all the clutter that we’ve made our priority instead of Jesus throughout the year. It helps us focus on the meaning of the season and the magnitude of that which we celebrate instead of jumping right into all the festivities. Waiting in a spirit of penance and getting to Confession at least once helps us clean out all the cobwebs in our souls and better prepare to celebrate Christ at Christmas, having made room for Him during Advent.
There are a few symbols of Advent that are common items you may see at Church or at home, but not know the meaning behind. Even if you know the general meaning of Advent candles and Nativity scenes at Christmas, there is a lot to be gained from taking a minute to consider why we include these during this season of the year.
Here are a few of the most popular symbols of Advent…
Advent Wreaths & Advent Candles
Advent wreaths are perhaps the most well-known symbol of Advent. They are found in homes and in Catholic churches during the weeks leading up to Christmas. One of four candles is lit on each Sunday leading up to the last Sunday before Christmas, in anticipation of the beginning of the Christmas season which begins on December 25.
The first candle to be lit represents hope. This is often called the Prophecy candle, as it calls to mind the prophet Isaiah and how he and other Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. As we light this candle, we await in hope the Savior of the world. This has particular meaning this year when so much feels out of control, and we can be reminded that our hope is only in Christ.
The second candle is also purple, and represents love. This is often called the Bethlehem candle, and calls to mind Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem prior to Jesus’ birth. It can also serve as a reminder that we should strive to emulate the perfect love and faith of Mary and Joseph. Mary was filled with divine love. She trusted God completely and said “yes” to everything He asked of her. Joseph obediently listened to God in Scripture and is a powerful figure of fatherhood, masculinity, and faith -- even though he never says a word in Scripture.
The third candle is pink (or rose) and stands for joy. This is always a memorable Sunday in Advent when priests wear rose vestments that they only wear one other time of the year, during Lent. This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday because it reminds of us of the joy of Christ’s coming into the world.
The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” It is also purple and reminds us of the greeting of the Angels in Scripture, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”.
Looking for a way to meditate on the meaning of each week of Advent? Our new Advent Knotted Rosary Bracelets come in a set of four with one for each week of Advent! Find them here!
Advent calendars are an interactive and fun way to watch the days of Advent pass. As you countdown until Christmas with an Advent Calendar, you’re reminded to patiently await the birth of Christ. The visual nature of this symbol of Advent makes it great for kids and families! And they’re extra fun if you get one with yummy chocolates! 😋
A Jesse Tree is a lesser-known devotion and symbol of Advent, but just as important as more popular ones. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and his lineage can be traced back to Jesse, the father of King David. Several times in Scripture, the Gospels recount this lineage in order to connect Jesus to Old Testament figures like Adam and Abraham. A Jesse Tree displays this genealogy of Christ, connecting Him to the Old Testament.
Nativity scenes come in many variations and styles and regardless of how they’re designed, they remind us of the humble birth of Jesus in a stable. Many churches and families leave the manger of a Nativity scene empty throughout Advent, only placing Jesus in the manger on Christmas day to emphasize Advent as a season of waiting for Christ. Nativity scenes are powerful in that they remind us of the love of God, that He would become man and humble Himself to be born in a stable out of love for us.
Living Holy the Present Moment This Advent
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