On the feast of St. Nicholas we tell this story of St. Nicholas who lived in the fourth century in Asia Minor:
He came from a well-known wealthy family but was taught by his parents to be generous to others, especially those in need. Nicholas heard about a rich man in Myra who lost all his money when his business failed. He had three daughters all wanting to get married, but he had no money for their marriage. The father thought he would have to sell one of his daughters into slavery in order to get money for food to feed the others. But the night before the first daughter was to be sold, Nicholas tossed a small bag of gold through their open window and then vanished in the darkness. The next morning the man found the bag of gold next to his bed. He did not know where it came from and he fell to his knees and thanked God for this beautiful gift. He was so happy that someone could be so unexpectedly good to him. He arranged for his first daughter's wedding and there was enough money left for the rest of them to live for almost a year.
The money eventually ran out and the father felt desperate. The next daughter was to be sold into slavery in order for the family to get money to live. But Nicholas again heard the news and went secretly to the father and tossed in another bag of gold. The man again wondered who could be so generous and he felt bad that he had given up hope and begged God for His pardon. He often wondered who gave them the gold. Each night afterwards the father watched the window.
As the year passed their money ran out. In the dead of night he heard quiet steps approaching his house and suddenly a bag of gold fell onto the floor. He quickly ran out of the house to see who it was. He recognized Nicholas as the young man who came from a well-known family in the city. He asked him why he gave them the gold. Nicholas said, "Because you needed it". The man asked him why he did it in secret. Nicholas replied, "Because it's good to give and have only God know about it."
Nicholas came to be the bishop of Myra and seemed more aware than ever of people's needs. He would appear all over the city to offer help to those in need. He would quietly disappear before anyone could offer him thanks. He was very concerned with families getting enough to eat and having a proper place to live. He also was intersted in making sure that children moved forward in life and that the elderly were treated with respect and dignity.
He would often give the children small gifts and his kindness touched everyone. The people learned from this holy man just how beautiful it is to give. So even thought the secular world may not acknowledge St. Nicolas we know that in the figure of their Santa Claus, whose name and activity Nicholas inspired, we have this saint with us today.
Advent for us is a time of preparation. We love Advent and enjoy all of the family traditions that we do each year. What is Advent? It comes from the latin word "arrival" or "coming", and is a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is the start of the Christmas season which lasts through the Baptism of Our Lord. The first Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church's "New Year's Day". It is at this time we change the cycle of readings at Mass. Advent is a time of joyous anticipation, but also of penance and preparation for the great Christmas feast. The liturgical color of the season is purple, a sign of penance, which is also used during Lent.
I made this Advent wreath years ago and we all look forward to putting it out each year on the first day of Advent. Each year we bless our wreath with Holy Water and prayers and then the oldest child lights the first candle.
The wreath is a circle, no beginning and no end representing Jesus coming to give us life that will never end, eternal life with God in heaven.
The evergreen branches do not change color as do the leaves on other types of trees in the winter. The evergreen reminds us of life and that God never changes. God has always loved us and always will.
There are four outer candles, one for each week of Advent. They represent the period of waiting during the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. There are usually three purple (the color of the vestments during Advent) and one rose colored candle. The first candle is of Expectation or Hope. The second represents Peace and the third, or rose candle, represents Joy. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, because in Latin, the first words of the opening antiphon for that day's Mass are "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always). On this Sunday rose-colored vestments are permitted and the rose colored candle is lit as a reminder that we are called to rejoice. The fourth candle represents Love.
Our tradition is to light it at our evening meal. We light the appropriate candle and say the particular prayer for that week then we say our eating prayer, enjoy our meal and conversation and then at the end of dinner the little ones blow them out.
When we light the candles it reminds us that Christ is the light of the world and He brightens the darkness around us. There is so much darkness these days and this outward sign is a great comfort to me. Each week we light one more candle, showing us that the more we let Christ into our lives, the brighter they will be. In the center is a large white candle, the Christ candle.The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world. On Christmas all four outer candles are lit as well as the center Christ candle. It creates the most beautiful and comforting glow. We keep it lit until the tapers have burned down, not too low though, I am always afraid of my wreath going up in flames. We then replace the candles with fresh ones because we continue to light all 5 candles through Mass services on the Epiphany, January 6th.
Our oldest children take turns lighting the candles each night and the younger three take turns blowing them out after dinner.
Our Advent Wreath is the focal point of our decor during this time and we also display a few St. Nicholas figures. The stockings are hung on the stairway and we have a few "wintry" decorations to make it feel more like winter here in Florida. The time of waiting and preparation is a wonderful thing. It keeps us grounded and focused and we don't get sucked up into the retail aspect.
I look forward to beginning our winter break next week. I want to get some projects done and prepare raw food like crazy. I will address the Christmas cards and hopefully get the kids picture taken in the next week or so. I also look forward to making our raw cookies and treats.
Three days before Christmas we will dig out the lights for the yard and for the trees. It takes us two days to get everything strung and placed. We put up one large tree and one small tree. We do not light them until late on Christmas Eve. We like the waiting and the anticipation. We prefer to have the big display when we celebrate Christ's Birthday, December 25th!! I have to giggle when I hear the kids murmur under their breath, why is eveyone decorating? It's NOT Christmas yet. We celebrate from Christmas Eve through the Baptism of Our Lord; long after everyone else has torn down their out door light ours are still shining bright.
My hope is to pass on these traditions to our children. We must teach them the true meaning of this religious holiday even though the world has tried to change it into something else. We wont ever give up our beliefs just because the world is sending conflicting messages. All for Christ in this house!
~JMJ~ Today I am grateful for family traditions. Our children look forward to all of the family traditions we do throughout the liturgical year. Even our teens still love to participate and look forward to each and every one. We try to add new traditions each year allowing them the chance to have many to choose from when they pass them on to their own children some day.