By Katie Smith
If you were to look into the windows of your neighbors this time of year, you would probably find similar decorations in each of the homes that celebrates Christmas. A tree, wreaths, lights and ornaments. There on the wall you might also find a calendar with 25 numbered doors, each counting down to Christmas Day. Each little door holds a sweet or toy behind it, to be enjoyed at the end of each day. It is an Advent calendar.
Most people have heard the term “Advent” from the yearly Advent calendar tradition. Advent calendars were first used by German Lutherans in the 1800s but have now become a widely held Christmas tradition for many Christian and non-Christian families. Sales of advent calendars have surged in recent years, helped by increasingly imaginative designs. But what is the story behind the calendar?
Advent, or “adventus,” means “to arrive” or “come” and also “develop” and “to appear” and it is celebrated by Christians during the four weeks preceding December 25 with special emphasis on the four Sundays of those weeks. Advent is a time to prepare hearts and homes for the birth of Christ on Christmas Day and it is a four-week exercise in patience and anticipation.
Though the Christmas season seems to show up earlier and earlier each year, we still live in a society of near-instant gratification. Four Sundays can seem like a long time to wait for the joy of a Christmas gathering. How can we honor the anticipation Advent seeks to teach us? One small intention at a time, says Sr. Mary Elizabeth Imler, OSF, vice president of mission integration and university ministry at the University of St. Francis.
During the season of Advent, Imler suggests turning the small pauses in your day into intentional moments of prayer and reflection.
“Use the few moments of delay at a red light to stop and reflect on the blessings in your life,” she says. “These moments then become more intentional and therefore are in the spirit of Christmas and Advent.”
Another way to celebrate Advent meaningfully is to be more conscious about the holiday preparations taking place around your home and offer up a prayer as you complete them. “These can be little prayers,” says Imler. “For instance, while making Christmas cookies for friends and family, you could say to yourself ‘May the sweetness of these cookies bring joy to those who receive them.’”
Imler also points out that familiar Christmas traditions are great reminders of the lessons of Advent. For instance, decorating the interior and exterior of our home with strings of lights and candles in windows.
“We are keenly aware of the early darkness this time of year,” remarks Imler. “During Advent, we should be contemplative of this darkness but find hope in the twinkling lights around us. The lights signify the coming of something pure and wonderful—the birth of Christ.”
The University of St. Francis celebrates Advent in a variety of ways during this special time. The campus is decorated with strings of Christmas lights, daily Mass is celebrated in the St. Joseph Chapel and several Christmas-themed musical performances are presented. For a full list of performances please visit stfrancis.edu/music-at-moser.
Instead of rushing through the next four weeks in a flurry, take time to reflect on the true purpose of the Advent season. Take it all in one Sunday at a time and gather those closest to you on the most joyous day of the year. Do that this year and maybe next, you will open each little calendar door with a greater sense of understanding for the season.
The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves 4,100 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 48,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu. University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.