Advent is a special time for the Steinhauser family of St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in Kissimmee. The days leading up to Christmas are filled with prayers said around the lighted candles of an Advent wreath, surprises found in an Advent calendar, Scripture readings and skits performed by the children of the family.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Ileana Steinhauser said her family focused on the religious aspect of the season, rather than the secular. Today, she, and her husband John, strive to give the same gift of prayerful preparation to their seven children, who range in ages from 2-14.
“We want to instill that in our children as well,” Ileana said. “They know that Santa Claus is not the reason we celebrate. It is the birth of Jesus, our savior. Advent is a time of preparation for what is coming, which is the birth of Jesus. For us it is very important.”
This year, the Advent season begins on Sunday, Nov. 30. For Catholics throughout the world, Advent is a season of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. The final days of Advent, Dec. 17-24, focus particularly on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas).
During his Sunday Angelus message for the start of Advent last year, Pope Francis focused on the importance of hope during the days leading up to Christmas. Speaking to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 1, 2013, he said it is necessary for the people to always renew the common horizon which we are journeying – the horizon of hope.
“This is the horizon that makes a good journey,” Pope Francis said. “The time of Advent that we begin again today returns us to the horizon of hope, a hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God, a hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints. He is faithful.”
Third Order Regular Franciscan Father Anthony Aarons, of the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park, said Catholics can make the most of the Advent season by truly celebrating it and seeing it as a time of preparation.
During the liturgical season, he encourages the faithful to heed the messages brought to us by those he calls “the prophets of Advent” – Jesus, John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother.
“We need to pay attention to what these persons have to say to us and try to apply that to our present situation,” Father Aarons said.
He also encouraged families to embrace traditions, such as having an Advent wreath in the home, helping the less fortunate, and participating in the celebration of Mass together. Father Aarons fondly recalled one special tradition of his native Jamaica.Every year, at the start on the Advent season, the women of the family would make Christmas pudding, which would not be served until Christmas morning. The sweet smells of the pudding only fueled the anticipation of what was to come. Advent is also meant to bring about a sense of anticipation.
“There is a certain amount of excitement that we should feel in Advent as we prepare for Christmas,” Father Aarons said. “We won’t be able to celebrate Christmas properly if we don’t celebrate Advent.”
Five things to Know about Advent
1. Advent (from, “ad-venire” in Latin or “to come to”) is the season encompassing the four Sundays (and weekdays) leading up to the celebration of Christmas.
2. The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
3. Advent wreaths are constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which four candles are inserted, representing the four weeks of Advent. Evergreen represents eternal life that comes to us through Jesus.
4. The colors of Advent are purple, representing royalty, and the need to prepare our hearts for Christ and pink, which represents joy.
5. The tradition of the Advent calendar started in Germany in the 1800s as a fun and meaningful way to count down the days until Christmas.