With the liturgical year having ended nearly a week ago, thus began the Catholic New Year and the season of Advent, the time for waiting for the Nativity of Our Lord. For someone new to the faith, I often compare my old views and beliefs with my new, Catholic ones. I had seen Advent calendars growing up, but I didn’t really understand their significance. I had thought of it as a countdown to Christmas, but in a secular, Santa Claus is coming to town sense. There are many secular versions of Advent calendars – calendars filled with chocolates, Lego Advent calendars, Starbucks has a chocolate candy calendar that comes with a $5 gift card. I also never associated it with beginnings, but rather endings since it comes at the end of the year. We had our Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, but it never occurred to me that there was a parallel time for the Catholic year. I had assumed that our secular calendar was a Christian calendar, and it had been set up long ago and adapted after the birth of Christ.
Now, I know that the religious year comes to an end in much the same way the Jewish year does, and Advent is the beginning of that new year. After celebrating a proper Advent last year I look at it more as a companion to Lent, although less somber – more anticipatory, more joyous, but also an opportunity to look at the past year and make some changes in whatever way that seems appropriate. Change is good, so a time of reflection before the family centered times of the holidays – presents, dinner, dessert, church, and family get togethers.
One other thing I and many other people think is that the twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days preceding Christmas Day but it is actually the twelve days after – the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. During the Middle Ages, this day was called Twelfth Night, and that was the traditional day to give and receive gifts. The Advent season goes from the first day of the new year until Christmas Day, and the Christmas season goes from Christmas Day until the feast day of Our Lord’s Baptism. It was startlingly to recognize that the Christmas season began with Jesus’ birth, and hadn’t ended with it.
It really is quite a profound change in perspective.
Our last few Christmases have been a little more low key as the kids get older and the toys get quieter. They sleep a tiny bit later, and they anticipate and expect our family traditions every year just a little bit more, looking forward to each one almost as a separate holiday. Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve dinner. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks for Christmas Day breakfast. Roast beef for dinner, and Doctor Who with dessert. In more recent years, they have gotten used to Mom’s church traditions of the Nine Lessons and Carols, the Christmas Eve Vigil and wondering when the tree will go up. We celebrate Chanukah, and they are always surprised to get a new dreidl and a bag of chocolate gelt even though they receive both yearly. Christmas Day comes with a phone call to their cousins and Grandma, a couple of texts and Facebook posts, and quiet time with their siblings, the oldest counting down until he’s spent enough time in the living room and can sneak back to his bedroom.
In this time there is also the Novena of the Feast of the immaculate Conception. This is the patron of my parish, and so we recite the novena daily. I had planned to include a daily rosary recitation during this week, but instead of looking on it as failing, I will instead look at it and try to do better for the rest of the nine days. The Novena prayers conclude with Mass on December 8th for the Feast of the immaculate Conception.
This week (yesterday to be precise) although not a milestone, it was my birthday. Forty-nine. It celebrates the ending of my forty-ninth year, and begins my fiftieth. I’m hesitant for fifty, although I think it’s more self-fulfilling anxiety because somehow I’m supposed to be upset by it. I wasn’t upset by forty. Or 42, although everyone who knows me knows that was a year celebrated as my Douglas Adams birthday. Forty-one gave me issues. I feel like I should commemorate fifty, so I am, but I’m not sure how I’ll feel at the end of next year.
As the days pass I’m sure that I’ll figure out my feels – happy, scared, and everything in between – and share them with you. I am planning on a year long reflection journey; I’m still not sure if it will be daily or weekly or weekly with an occasional influx of daily.
I am also entertaining the idea of some kind of pilgrimage in regards to the Jubilee Year of Mercy as announced by Pope Francis, but I’m still not finished on deciding what I want to get out of it. I don’t want to do it just to say I’ve done it. I only know that when Pope Francis mentioned it, it struck me in the heart as something calling to me.