The rest of Knoxville–the rest of the United States–may think it’s time to celebrate the Christmas season, but we Shollys firmly insist on celebrating Advent first.
For those who don’t know, in the Church calendar, Advent is the season which precedes the Christmas season, a time of watching, waiting, and preparing for the coming of Christ. Christmas does not officially begin until the day itself, and continues until Epiphany (that’s the twelve days of Christmas, not the twelve days leading up to it, as I have heard some claim recently!).
Now, I’m not the Grinch, and I don’t require that my family abstain from all the festivities that started the day after Thanksgiving, but we do try with varying degrees of success year to year to observe some Advent customs at home. We attended our parish’s Advent Workshop and made an Advent wreath which we light and pray over, although not every night. I ordered a couple of CDs that I like to listen to during Advent before breaking out the Christmas carols. I took down all the harvest-themed decorations and left my mantel bare except for candles. Some years we hang Jesse Tree ornaments. The ones my three big kids colored eleven years ago are ashes, of course, but I got a new set this year for the little ones to color. Maybe they will be ready by next year. And some years we have an Advent Calendar.
Like everyone else, the way our family does things at this time of the year is governed by tradition–in this case, my tradition. My husband was raised Protestant and his family’s tree went up right after Thanksgiving (not that this doesn’t also seem to be true for a lot of Catholics I know!). But when I was growing up we always had an Advent calendar, and our decorations did not go up until well into December. More than my family’s practices, though, my love of the Advent season was shaped by my experience at St. Joseph School.
Every morning right after Mass everyone in the school would stop in the hallway beside the elevated area where the statue of the Blessed Mother used to stand. There we had a cedar tree that served as Jesse Tree until right before Christmas, when it was re-purposed as a Christmas tree. One of the 8th graders would hold up the ornament of the day and would read the verses that went along with it. Then Sister Janice would lead us in an Advent hymn like “The King of Glory,” and we would sing it as we walked back to our classrooms. I looked forward to these mornings with great anticipation and the ritual really did awaken in me a feeling of excitement that had nothing to do with presents and Santa Claus.
We are having a Christmas Open House this year. Normally we have our parties between Christmas and New Year’s, which should be days of celebration rather than days of throwing out the tree and tearing down the decorations. Who ever heard of having the party before the guest of honor even arrives, after all? However, we are going out of town after Christmas so we have to party the weekend before. That means our tree will go up sooner than December 21 or 22, which is what I prefer.
But for now we will watch and wait just a little longer.