The Advent season is upon us and, for me, all the memories of childhood come rushing back. Most of us treasure our childhood times when life seemed simple, and we remember everything was perfect. One of the things that led to these perfect memories is that they are part of the rituals of the season.
When I became a young mother, I reflected on these memories and decided to bring these rituals to my children so they could treasure their own memories. One of the customs that we began was drawing names for their Christmas Pollyanna after Thanksgiving dinner. On the first day of Advent, we set up the Nativity stable, minus straw and the Baby Jesus. During Advent, the children were to be extra kind and do favors for their Pollyanna sister. Each special deed allowed them to place a piece of straw in the manger so that by Christmas Eve, there was a comfortable bed for the newborn infant.
We attended Mass on Christmas Eve and then returned home for a birthday dinner celebration for Jesus. After dinner, we placed Jesus in the manger on the pieces of hay, and sang Christmas hymns to welcome him. The girls were then allowed to exchange the gift from their Pollyanna sister.
In a slightly revised form, this custom lives on today, 45 years later.
You may be thinking, “That’s a nice custom, but so what?” It is all about rituals! A ritual is a form of prescribed behavior and occurs both as the invention of an individual and as a culture trait. Rituals of various kinds are a feature of almost all known human societies, past or present. They are actions that can make an important event special or sacred.
We use rituals very often in our faith. They help us remember the importance of the event. The custom that we initiated as young parents taught our children several lessons in a ritual manner. The straw in the manger for good deeds taught them about the importance of serving others and how our sacrifice can be offered in prayer. Christmas Mass was followed by a formal dinner. We wanted to emphasize the importance of Christmas and the reason why we celebrate this feast.
This was also true of the hymn singing and placing of Jesus in the comfortable manger, softened by their kind actions. These customs and rituals are what create memories that we carry throughout our life. What were the memories from your childhood that add to the solemnity of today’s occasions? What customs do you bring to your family or friends that will carry the memories into the future?
The word “remember” holds special significance in our faith tradition. We are daily remembering Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. The theological word for this is “anamnesis”; it means the event of the past is happening now. We experience this daily in the celebration of the Eucharist. Jesus indeed dies daily in an un-bloody sacrifice and we are fed by his body and blood.
We are called to find God in our everyday life. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior during this Christmas season, take some time to reflect on the rituals that surround your family celebration of Christmas. Do they enhance the truth of this holy day and keep Christ at the center?
Kathy Ebner, a spiritual director, is a member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish, in Lewes.