The Christmas season can be a lot of fun, buying and getting gifts, going to parties, being with friends and family, but it also has a profound spiritual component. And when people talk about "the holidays," there is often a kind of edge to that phrase, perhaps because this season can remind us of all we are lacking (or yearning for) spiritually and otherwise.
One of the ways that some Christians try to stay focused on what's important during this time is to make an Advent wreath, which you'll find in their homes and houses of worship. They place four candles round the wreath and light one candle on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Some add a fifth light on Christmas Eve or Day.
The candle colors vary by tradition and are usually a combination of white, red, blue, rose or purple. These colors reflect the joyful anticipation of the arrival of Jesus Christ, viewed by Christians as the light of the world, the Prince of Peace. Advent literally means arrival, so the wreath is a kind of symbolic countdown to his birthday and a metaphor for goodness, hope and renewal. It's a powerful yet gentle symbol.
I don't think I've made a wreath since I was a kid. City-living doesn't make doing art projects with stuff from nature easy or practical. (When would I ever have the time? I'd always be thinking about things like this.) But then a big storm blew out the electricity and I had plenty of it: no Internet, no phones, no lights. The roads weren't clear and beyond securing food and water, there was nothing "to do." So I went outside and found there were beautiful evergreen pines everywhere in the yard -- all the weak trees had been blown down.
And I then remembered:
It's not too late to make an Advent wreath.
Even if you do not ascribe to this particular theology, you may still be seeking to make a place in your heart, and home, for peace, love, light and hope. During the dark winter months, we probably all need a little of reminder of that. Case in point, I was at the grocery store the other day and the cashier and I were talking about holiday shopping, but his usually jovial manner was strained -- he was forcing a smile, like actually talking about it was causing him pain. And then he said that he wasn't planning on doing any shopping because all his extra cash was going to repair damage to his home from the recent storm.
I go there enough to know that he's working a lot of hours and probably just to get by. And then I understood why he was stressed out: not being able to "demonstrate" his "love" by buying all the gifts he'd like for others had made him feel like he hadn't fulfilled some obligation -- some "proven" way to show the people he cares for how much he loves them.
But I wanted to say to him:
Shopping really has nothing to do with Christmas.
(Even the Advent wreath is a stand-in for the real thing.)
They are all symbols of something else, they are pointing toward what is real.
And what is real is your presence.
Your presence alone is gift enough.
I've seen him with other people (customers, co-workers) and there's something in his way that makes a pretty dull (imho) activity (grocery shopping) a pleasant experience for everyone. His presence alone is a gift enough.
We can all be like that in our own way with those we meet.
Here's how to make an Advent wreath:Get:
- A good handful of green pine branches (ones that are flexible) of any size or shape. If you don't have pine, substitute with anything you can find that's bendy and green. Eucalyptus branches are a good alternative and you can get them at many flower shops and grocery stores.
- One wire hanger.
- 4-5 twisty ties (look around, maybe you have some in your junk drawer or with your garbage bags; if not, tape, rubber bands, wire, or string will do instead).
- 4 ribbons, about 5" long (be open to interpretation, I didn't have any in the house, so I used the plastic handles from our trash bags).
- (optional) 4-5 candles.
- Take an old wire hanger and unfurl it until it makes a circle.
- Find some pine branches (see my note above) and wrap them round the wire.
- Secure with twisty ties.
- Tie colored ribbons at weakest parts to make the wreath secure.
Hang on your door or wall. Alternatively, set the wreath at your table, and each Sunday, light a new candle. Take a moment to appreciate the light that illuminates the darkness, and be thankful. On Christmas, light the fifth candle.