Recently, my son came home from school asking me about his heritage. He had to do a project in a cardboard box with different symbols of family traditions (no, he is not in Elementary School, this is actually High School!) I promptly stated that his dad is more than one quarter Norwegian, as am I, so that would be a good place to start. I started sharing with him about all the Christmas traditions I had as a child, such as wearing a Norwegian apron that my grandma made me on Christmas Day , the Norwegian prayer I got to memorize and recite since I was the youngest grandchild, the opening of presents on Christmas Eve (this one was Mark’s), and the krumkake that was made every year (both of us), yum. I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that Isaac had no idea what I was talking about. His comment was, “How come we didn’t do that? What were our traditions?”
Guilt, guilt, guilt. As every parent knows, this is a total recipe for parental guilt. Why DIDN’T we carry on those traditions for Christmas? Did we do any traditions with the boys? What were we thinking? Were we thinking? And then I remembered ADVENT. Yes, we did have a Christmas tradition, and it was one that I loved, and I could also claim it was a tradition in Norway- a little bit of heritage.
Advent means “coming” and is the preparation for the coming of Christ. Our tradition involved lighting a candle on an advent wreath every Sunday, for the four Sundays before Christmas, with the 5th and central candle, being lit on Christmas Eve. It was a build-up to Christmas- to the ultimate celebration. For us it was family time. We put out our advent wreath on the Sunday, a week after Thanksgiving, and then made sure to sit down for a meal together, light that week’s candle and then have a short bible reading/discussion about what the candle symbolized. We started this tradition at a time when the boys were really small. Mark wrote a devotion for each week, talking about God’s character and His gift to us.
The first candle, lit on the first Sunday of December, symbolizes God as our Creator. We read Genesis 1:1- “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them: male and female he created them.” We then talk about creativity and how can we be creative-creative in our work, our hobbies, our lives, and how this points others to our Creator.
Week two is a devotion about how God is our Father. 1 John 3:1 says “Behold, what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” John 1:2 “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” God’s love for us is overwhelming. He loves us so much that he gave His Son, Jesus, whose coming we are celebrating (for the entire month.)
God is our friend. John 15:15 says, “no longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” We have been entrusted with the message of Christ- not as servants but as dearly loved friends of God. He loved us first, and our relationship with Him brings joy, both to us and to Him.
God is our Savior, through Jesus’ birth and resurrection. John 3:16- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” And this is the gospel- the good news! Because of Christ’s birth and resurrection, we are forgiven and brought back into a right relationship with our God.
And finally, the central candle is lit on Christmas Eve, and the nativity story is read. The culmination of what we have been looking forward to. We talk about God’s present (Jesus) and then open our presents. And eat cookies and drink hot cider. Of course.
I’ve seen many wonderful meanings of the candles when looking up advent online. The weeks may symbolize hope, preparation, joy and love; or the colors represent different things-3 purple candles for prayer, penance and preparation with the pink representing rejoicing. And there were others, but they all point to the same thing- the birth of our Savior.
So come, Lord Jesus!