Happy second week of Advent y’all! I hope each of you has begun to celebrate this season, but if you haven’t, we’re only on week two of four so there is quite a bit of time before Chirstmas! It seems that Matt and I have gradually been adding to our Advent celebrations (which has been good for us while he’s in the middle of finals and huge papers and what not).
There are plenty of resources on ways to celebrate this season, so I’ll just give you a brief view into what Matt and I are doing in just a bit. What I’d really like to do is share how Advent came to be. Part of the beauty of the Catholic Church is its basis on tradition. But, how few of us actually know the roots of the traditions we celebrate.
I suppose to start, it would be good to understand why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. If you want all the details – which would be impossible for me to summarize – I would check this out. TLDR: Basically, in various regions of our early church (think the 300-400 A.D. range) Christ’s birth was celebrated on or close to December 25th. There are some thoughts that this date/time of year coincides with other pagan festivals which were celebrated around Christ’s birth, but this isn’t totally certain. Eventually, the various regions of our church wanted to be able to connect more fully, so December 25th was officially adopted as our celebration date of the birth of Christ.
Even if we can’t determine the exact origin of this date, the fact that such an early church had the desire to celebrate the coming of our Lord is amazing to me.
Not only did our early church celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, but there was a common (unofficial) season of fasting and abstinence. We can see in writings from bishops and popes as early as the 500s which speak of the preparations for the birth of Christ. Pope St. Gregory the Great even had a homily for the second Sunday of Advent. This preparation season was termed Advent because the Latin root means “a coming, approach, arrival” (hence the idea of waiting for the coming of our King).
Our early church celebrated 40 days of Advent, similar to the season of Lent, and the fasting was quite extensive compared to our ideas of fasting in today’s world. Though the fasting was difficult (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Christmas), it was observed with joy for the coming of Christ. Many of the practices of our early church are still observed by our Orthodox brothers and sisters today – even a 40 day Advent. Around the 900s, Advent became the four week season we observe today. Though it’s not common for Catholics to fast during this time like we do in Lent, many still take the season as quiet preparation for the Incarnation.
Okay, okay, so that wasn’t the most exciting overview of how Advent came to be. The takeaway from that lesson was that as early as the 400s, we had Christian brothers and sisters who joyfully fasted and awaited the glorious celebration of Christ’s birth. We are called to do the same.
Whatever form that may be for you. As I said, Matt and I have been taking this gradually. We started off with Advent wreath prayers. Then, added a book to read together, this and eventually (when Matt’s school is over) this. And on to adding some liturgical colors to our house and stringing up some lights. Sweets are made for days of feasting – St. Nick’s, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, etc. (Maybe when I’m not growing a human, we’ll do some fasting). We are still a young family…there’s only two three of us, and we’ll spend a good amount of our holiday season with our families in Texas. One day we’ll form our own family traditions, but like our Advent, we will let it take time to develop.
If you feel like you’ve been too concerned with Christmas presents or holiday plans with the family or whatever else, you may need to stop and take a break. I understand and often find myself caught up in the heat of things. Don’t stress that you haven’t done enough to prepare yet. Christ wants to give you His peace this season. Start small. Disconnect from all the things for 3 minutes, close your eyes, and say a simple prayer for your heart to be softened. You’ll be drawn to do more at your own pace; and, Christ will prepare you to receive His grace come Christmas.
Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto. Et Verbum caro factum est.
And, just for fun! St. Nicholas left Matt and I some goodies this past Sunday! I didn’t expect him to be so generous! ;)