With the Christmas season now fully upon us, it is easy to get distracted with the commercialism of the season. The Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson said, “Our celebration of Christmas should be a reflection of the love and selflessness taught by the Savior. Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. We feel more kindly one to another. We reach out in love to help those less fortunate. Our hearts are softened. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things. To catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ. (Thomas S. Monson, “The Real Joy of Christmas,” Christmas Devotional, 2013)
I, too, have been caught up in the distractions that abound during this time of year and have missed out on fully appreciating the reason for the season. This year, before we drive ourselves head-on into holiday traffic, I’d like to invite you to take a detour with me. I’d like to re-visit some of my childhood memories of the true meaning of Christmas in to hopes of revitalizing your Christmas experience as well. Christmas is the Advent Season—proclaiming the coming of our Savior. The display of the Advent Wreath has been a Christian tradition for centuries. For me, it is the perfect harbinger of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Advent Wreath
My childhood was filled with Christmas traditions from my mother’s German background. One of my favorites begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas with the lighting of the candles on the Advent Wreath. The Advent wreath is an evergreen wreath that sits proudly on a table, with four candles nestled in the pine. Each candle represents a Sunday before Christmas. We would light the first candle on the first Sunday, then two candles were lit the next week and so on until four burning candles made the centerpiece complete. By adding the tributary light each week on a Sunday, we marked the progression toward Christmas day in a slow yet hallowed manner.
We would sit in the living room and listen to German Christmas carols. I remember the first Sunday we would sit in the dark with only one lit candle—the room had barely any light. It hinted at the coming of the Light of the World, our Savior, making his way to us from a distance. The music was different than any other music we’d hear during the Christmas season. They were traditional folk songs sung in the German language, and to me it had the effect of drawing me closer to the Savior.
During the second week, two candles were a-glow, and the light grew stronger. By the third week, the light was even more inviting. The first candle was quite a bit smaller than the others, but it still burned brightly. Then by the fourth week, with all the candles lit, the room had a celestial brightness. The carols sounded like they were sung by a heavenly choir. Christmas was just around the corner.
My imagination would wander off toward thoughts of the first Christmas, when Christ came into the world. Sometimes I would think of the three wise men from the east and how they followed the star at night to find the place where Jesus lay. I imagined the star getting brighter as they got closer to Bethlehem, much like the advent wreath increases in brightness as we got closer to Christmas. Other times, my mother would take a small pine branch from the Christmas tree and burn it in an ash tray while we sat. The smell of the burning pine made me think of the sweet spices and frankincense offered as gifts to the new born Savior of the world.
Lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath each Sunday was a perfect way to spend time together as a family. We put the rest of the world on hold. We sat together and listened to my mother sing. The activity was a feast of the senses, visually, aurally, and even through smell. Only two things would have made it more meaningful—reading from the scriptures and praying together as a family. We didn’t grow up in a household that practiced this kind of closeness, but I am sure that if we did, it would have added richly to the experience. Even so, the spirit of the Lord was there with us—the Holy Ghost bore testimony to me that Jesus is the Christ. I know this now as I look back in reflection and recall the tender feelings that have left a lasting impression in my heart—feelings I could never deny, feelings I treasure to this day.
You can build upon the tradition of the advent wreath. It might be a wonderful opportunity for your family to keep the Sabbath day holy, too. You might want to set aside one hour a week on each Sunday before Christmas to light a candle, read from the scriptures about the coming of the Savior, even play selected hymns that are Christ-centered. For four Sundays in a row, you can bring His light into your world, watch it build in strength, and allow it to make its impression and have a lasting effect on your family.
How will we worship him?
The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season? Endlessly shopping? Hustling about and adorning our homes? Will that be our tribute to our Savior? Or will we bring peace to troubled hearts, good will to those in need of higher purpose, glory to God in our willingness to do His bidding? Jesus put it simply: “Come, follow me.” (Elder Ronald A. Rasband, “Glory to God”, Christmas Devotional, 2013)
By taking even one hour a week before Christmas to stop and ponder the Savior’s humble birth, his life and mission, and his saving sacrifice for all, we can avoid the potholes and traffic accidents of life that get in the way of enjoying the most wonderful time of the year. We truly can become followers of Christ.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.