An Advent tale about a small father-less family from South West Africa that has been granted asylum in Australia. This is their first Advent in a new country.
In the midst of birthday celebrations for 9-year-old Andrew, his sister Celeste looked across the room and exclaimed: “Is that an Advent wreath?” She rushed over for a closer look at my wreath and proceeded to explain to anyone who was listening that the four candles represented the four weeks before Christmas and the pink one is for joy when the third week arrives. She also mentioned that there should be a white candle in the middle which we will light on Christmas Eve to remember Jesus’ birth. (My version fell short in this respect, so I am now researching a way to balance a white candle in the centre of the oasis-based wreath!)
Celeste is 6 and came with her family seeking asylum from Namibia five months ago. Her father, a doctor, has disappeared and is presumed dead. Her first Christmas in Australia could be totally focused on presents and Santa and all the incidentals of this feast. However, her Year 1 class teacher has given these very young children an insight into one of the traditions of our faith which speaks of waiting and prayerfully preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. With the lighting of each candle in their classroom, they are counting down the days till they light the white candle on Christmas day- the emphasis, maybe just for those moments, is on the real meaning of Christmas.
In the rush and commercialisation of the lead up to Christmas, parents are often stressed and busy with work-related pressures to get everything done before Christmas. I wonder if the role of grandparents and “elders” in our faith community could be to make time with the children in their lives to introduce them to some of the rich symbolism of Advent. Teaching the children how to make a wreath, whilst explaining its significance, may be the best gift we could give them!
Cecilia Merrigan csb is a Brigidine sister living and ministering in rural Victoria. Cecilia has spent her entire religious life in Catholic education, pastoral work in local communities. She has also served her religious community in various roles including that of Congregational Leader of Brigidine sisters.