Advent, beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew, November 30, is a season of preparation for the birth of Our Lord Jesus. Advent comprises four Sundays.
Just as Lent prepares us for the Passion of the Lord and Easter, Advent prepares us for the birth of the Lord, Christmas.
As opposed to Lent, which prepares our hearts focusing on the sufferings of Christ Jesus, Advent is a time of preparation that focuses on His birthday, the greatest ever. So although the liturgical season of Advent is still penitential in the sense of making our spirits ready, it carries a marked note of joy.
Any form of penitence or penance, which includes contrition, atonement and reparation, only has one purpose: to prepare the house (our hearts) for divine visitation. It’s what we call, “cleaning house”. We do it for any guest, and certainly for a divine Guest.
So the idea is to spiritually prepare for Christmas by a closer focusing on the marvelous mystery of the Nativity, by reading, meditation, prayer and the reception of the Sacraments: Confession and Holy Communion.
The Custom of the Advent Wreath
A great way to make Advent visual, palpable, and to involve children, is to make an Advent Wreath, a European custom that has lately grown popular in the US. The wreath includes four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent. Three of the candles are purple, symbol of penitence, and one is pink, symbol of joy.
The wreath is a symbol of God, because a circle has no beginning and no end. The decorations attached to the wreath symbolize the joy of the divine birth and salvation that approaches.
For the first week of Advent, one purple candle is lit every day before the evening meal and an accompanying prayer said. The flame, symbol of Christ, the Light of the World, stays lit during the meal.
All these symbolisms should be explained to children, as symbols are visual signs that make an invisible reality easier to grasp, take in, and make their own.
For the second week of Advent, another purple candle is lit, and the same procedure followed.
For the Third week of Advent the pink candle is lit in sync with the liturgical Gaudete Sunday or “Sunday of Joy” a kind of “break” the Church takes from the penitential spirit, as Christmas draws near. The same procedure follows.
And for the Fourth week of Advent the fourth purple candle is lit, in a last penitential gesture as the great day becomes imminent. The same procedure is kept.
An Advent wreath can be made or bought at any Catholic book, devotionals store, or googled for several options. The wreath can be decorated in a thousand ways, as simply or as creatively as wished. Only make sure the holders are safe and each candle is extinguished after the meal and prayers.