The Advent calendar, or Adventhaus, began in Scandanavia and Germany. Its purpose is to help children become aware of the expectancy of Advent. Sometimes the Advent calendar is a picture of a house with 23 small windows and 1 large window that are opened to reveal the tiny religious symbols, icons and pictures behind them. Another variation is to construct a Jacob's Ladder that leads step by step to the day of Christ's birth. Every morning or every evening before bedtime, the child opens a window, behind which appears a star, an angel, a manger or some other picture appropriate to the Advent season. (If there are several children in the family, the privilege of opening the windows rotates from one to another). An appropriate bible verse can serve as a caption to the picture. On the 23rd, all twenty-three small windows are open; the big window remains closed until Christmas Eve, when it is opened to reveal the Holy Child in the manger. When all the windows are opened, stand the calendar in front of a lamp or window. The light will shine through the paper, giving the little house a Christmas glow.
The symbolism of the Jesse tree is based on the renowned prophecy of Isaiah: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of this root. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness." The rod was taken to represent the Virgin Mary and the flower to stand for Christ Himself.
Some examples of ornaments to be hung on the Jesse Tree are the Dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit and of Wisdom; the Burning Bush, the symbol of God the Father who gave Moses and the Jews the law on Mount Sinai; the Root of Jesse, symbol of Christ's kingly ancestry; the Key of David and Scepter, symbolizing Christ's Kingship; the Tablets, symbol of the Old Law and the cornerstone of the New Law in Christ; and the Sun in the Manger, symbol of Christ our Savior. During each evening in Advent, a family member places a Jesse Tree ornament on the Tree and explains its significance to the rest of the family. The Jesse Tree itself can be a small three or four foot tree apart from the family's larger Christmas tree.
The use of the crib (French creche; Italian praesepio; German krippe) is often first ascribed to St. Francis of Assisi, who in 1223 celebrated the Feast of the Nativity in a new way that helped the Church establish a new devotional practice.... Another custom that evolved from the crèche is the Preparation of the Manger. The custom originated in France but spread to Germany and other European countries. It is the practice of having children prepare a soft bedding in the manger by using little strands of straw as tokens of prayers and good works. Each night every child is allowed to place one straw for each act of devotion or virtue performed throughout the day in the crib. Thus, when the Christ Child comes on Christmas Eve he will find plenty of straw to keep him warm and to soften the hardness of the manger's boards.
To be continued…
Father Don Kline, V.F.