My mother loved all holidays but most especially Christmas. Each year a new decoration was added to the mix in our home – colored lights strung around the lattice windows, holly boughs festooning the stairway bannister, a giant wreath that encircled our entire front door. Her years as a member of a neighborhood garden club resulted in an accumulation of Christmas crafts that ranged from wall hangings of glittering Christmas trees to Santa’s sled, filled with greenery and tiny wrapped packages.
None of these decorations, of course, are part of the Advent season and some would argue that they shouldn’t be brought out until Christmas Eve. What we do in our homes, however, does not necessarily follow liturgical guidelines for churches. In many homes secular symbols sit alongside sacred ones – thus resulting in the cohabitation of angels and crèches with snowmen and Santa Claus. I have never been a purist about such matters, perhaps because of my mother’s influence, and yet I somehow find the mixture of these symbols a lovely expression of Advent expectation and waiting.
The singular Advent symbol I do remember from childhood is the calendar with its little square doors, each one counting the days to Christmas Day with a picture or Scripture verse. My brother, Larry, and I took turns opening the doors and our excitement grew as the Christmas festival drew closer. We may not have been able to articulate the liturgical significance of Advent but we understood it somewhere deep in our hearts. This is the great gift of family as domestic church – celebrating rituals that grow richer in meaning with each turn of the season. It’s the first experience of liturgy – the “work of the people” – through the use and re-use of symbols that become more cherished as time passes.
Each year my first act for Advent in our home is setting out the wreath with its four candles and ribbons of purple and pink entwined among the evergreen boughs. Then come the boxes of Christmas decorations, including the Santa sled and wall hanging, along with others accumulated over the forty-plus years of my marriage to Ron. Each contains a memory of someone or something beloved and, taken together, becomes a prescient reminder of God-with-us in the midst of our family. And I will recognize once again why, like my mother, I cherish the season above all others – a time for joyful expectation of the coming anew of Christ’s life and love into our lives.