Advent means ‘coming,’ not ‘arrival.’ It’s a time of joyous anticipation of the birth of our Lord Jesus. While we all need to prepare for Christmas celebrations in one way or another, Catholics do not have parties, sing carols, or celebrate Christmas before the day arrives: midnight December 24th/25th.
We’ve prepared some pages to help you keep the spirit of Advent, while also considering how to celebrate Christmas more as the Catholic holy day that it is, than as a media-driven, commercialized season of spending, over-indulgence, and exhaustion.
One thing you can do to keep the Advent spirit, is listen to – and learn to sing – hymns and songs that reflect the season. One of the most beautiful of these hymns is ‘Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.’ It’s based on the ‘O Antiphons,’ traditionally prayed in Advent, which have a hidden Latin acronym that most people don’t know about.
In Poland, there is a beautiful tradition called ‘Rorate’ (from the first word of a Latin hymn sung at the start of Mass). Every weekday in Advent, the Mass at dawn begins in darkness. (In some parishes, especially in cities, it’s been transferred to the evening Mass; some parishes have morning Rorate with adults and late afternoon Rorate Mass for children.) The congregation – especially children – bring lanterns (or hold candles) to the church and walk in procession along with the priest and the altar-servers while the Rorate hymn is sung.
In our English Mass, we sing a different verse of the Rorate hymn at the beginning of each Mass in Advent. Listen to Rorate being sung in Latin, to help you prepare for singing it in Mass, and simply to enjoy this beautiful hymn during Advent. (You can see it here with words and Gregorian notes.)
While we’re trying to focus on joyful anticipation of the birth of our Lord, the world around us is filled with Christmas decorations, Christmas music – often of a very secular nature – and relentless advertising. It can get to the point that we’re just overwhelmed and frankly sick of Christmas before the day comes. But we can take back Christmas by making it more Catholic. Read our article and adopt some of its strategies in your own home – and send a link to our article to your friends in Protestant and secular countries who may also be feeling overwhelmed with too much Christmas, too soon.
One of the easiest things you can do to keep the Advent spirit alive in your home is to set up an Advent Wreath and pray the prayers at your evening meal. It’s easy to make a wreath – just four candles is enough if that’s all you have (look online for creative ideas).
Finally, when Christmas comes in Poland, there are two traditions you may be asked to share: the Opłatek ceremony and the kolęda visit. You can read about opłatek on our website, so you’ll be prepared if you join a Polish family or friends in sharing opłatek wafers. This is a beautiful ritual of sharing on Christmas Eve before the traditional ‘Wigilia’ (vigil) dinner, which begins when the first star has been spotted in the evening sky. The sharing will take different forms depending on whether it’s among family or friends or co-workers, and depending on how religious the family is.
When it comes to the kolęda visit, your neighbors and friends who have lived in Poland for a few years can tell you about it. In general, in the time between Christmas and February 2nd, Polish priests visit all the homes in their parish to take a sort of ‘census’ (asking who lives there, if they are Catholic, if they have the sacraments, if they need anything from the parish, etc.). They also bless the home, and if you wish, you can offer them the customary donation (in a discreet envelope). They may also be accompanied by altar-servers from the parish; it’s customary to put a coin in the boys’ boxes. Finally, they usually write the letters K + M + B on or above your door with blessed chalk that you should supply (you get it from your church). These initials recall the traditional names of the Three Wise Men (Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar) who visited the Holy Family after the birth of Jesus.