Christmas is a holy time, a joyful time of remembering Christ’s life and mission and taking those blessings deep within. It is also a fun-filled, busy time for families, which can become frantic and harried, with all feelings of blessing and holiness lost in the hustle.
Over the years we have used many different traditions and activities in our home to keep the focus of our Christmases on spiritual blessings. At the Ananda Portland Temple and Teaching Center, we have also engaged the children in many fun activities to help teach them the meaning of Christmas.
This year at the temple we brought back the tradition of Advent. Advent is well known in Catholic churches, but not commonly practiced in the Protestant tradition or other faiths. Very simply, it is a wonderful way to repeatedly bring the focus back to spiritual blessings during the holy season.
If you look up the Advent tradition, you will find a variety of Bible readings and scripts that are used, but I’ll tell you how we adapted the idea for our Sunday Services.
An advent wreath has 4 candles placed around it, with a 5th candle in the center. Each week (starting 4 Sundays prior to Christmas eve), a candle is lit. On Christmas Eve all 4 are burning and the 5th one is lit to represent the Christ.
The wreath was set up on a table next to the altar. The children were happy to help light the candles and carry figures to add to the nativity scene. We assigned those duties prior to service, to avoid hurt feelings and save time.
The first candle represents the Promise of Christ’s birth and the eternal promise that divine light will always come into darkness. The three wisemen were brought up the first week, because they understood why Christ was coming and they followed the star (seen in the spiritual eye in deep meditation).
The second candle represents divine Love. Mary and Joseph and the empty manger were added because of the love they held in their hearts for God and for the Christ child.
The third candle represents divine Joy and the shepherds. The great joy the shepherds experienced at the news of Christ’s birth can be experienced by everyone who opens their heart to what God is offering.
The fourth candle represents divine Light, manifested by the angels. This is the last Sunday before Christmas Eve and the nativity, with the addition of the angel, was now in full splendor on the altar.
We also added a new service for families on Christmas Eve. Scheduled from 5pm – 6pm, it was accessible to all, but especially child friendly. During this service, we lit the last advent candle, placed the little baby Jesus safely in his manger, and “built” a live creche scene with costumed players of all ages.
The feelings of deep blessings, gratitude and awe were tangible that evening. Because of the focus on the Christmas story and the qualities of spiritual blessing each week, the Christmas Eve service felt like a sweet culmination of celebration, instead of a too-brief opportunity to take it all in at once.
Advent can be practiced at home and can become a deep and meaningful part of the Christmas season. Children can be engaged on many levels – they can choose stories and crafts that depict the quality focused on for the week. They can set up their nativity or decorate their room a little at a time. The advent wreath can be the centerpiece on the table and if Sunday is not a convenient time for family celebration, choose another day of the week to do your advent remembrance.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that a long Christmas meditation was good practice for adults to balance the social aspects of Christmas with the inner opportunity for grace. For children, balance can be even harder to find. I am so grateful for the blessings shared during our Advent season, and the insights and joy experienced by adults and children together.
May the new year bring you ever closer to God,
In divine friendship, Lorna