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Remember the true spirit of Advent

It's a time to make your life more meaningful

Remember the true spirit of Advent
Ivan Fernandes, Hyderabad

December 10, 2012

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When I was in school, an elderly Christian Brother who taught us catechism insisted year after year that the four-week Advent season was one of prayer, fasting, sacrifices and acts of self discipline in preparation for Christmas.  

That is why the Catholic Church uses purple vestments during the Advent season, as it also does during Lent, to remind us of self-purification and repentance, he would tell us.

What was worse, he taught that we unnecessarily make too much of a fuss about Christmas celebrations, as it was Easter and not Christmas that was important.

Needless to say, this was quite contrary to what I believed in and experienced.

Special prayers, fasting and sacrifices were good for Lent – the 40-day season of spiritually preparing oneself for remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and not something for Christmas. Christmas, which also marks the birth of our Lord and the new year of the Christian Church, is a joyous occasion and not something as sorrowful and painful an event as a death by crucifixion, surely.

Days running up to Christmas were a time of special hectic preparation but not of the type to which my catechism teacher referred. It was a time for rejoicing, a time of long holidays free of schoolwork, for we had just finished a year, waiting to be promoted to the next grade.

It was a once-in-a-year time of buying new clothes, visits to the tailors, baking cakes, preparing special homemade sweets, chocolates and food, buying presents for friends and relatives, and decorating the house with Christmas trees, holly and streamers and tinsel.

Then there were parties and get-togethers for all age groups, sending Christmas cards and remembering people who otherwise might be forgotten, singing and hearing Christmas carols.

And that Christian Brother wanted to spoil it all with fasting, sacrifices and other somber acts of self-discipline.

And so the guilt of not looking at Advent as a mini-Lent always tugged at my conscience for many years after I left school.

That Brother’s teaching that Christmas is not as important as Easter was easy for me to understand. Without going into the theology of it, Easter, which is Jesus’ resurrection, incorporates the death and birth as one has to be born first before there is any dying or resurrecting.

As for all the festivities in the run up to Christmas, bring them on. I am not against festivities and I don’t think the Catholic Church is either. God knows, we do need the festive spirit to brighten our lives to be better people.

To enjoy ourselves is not a crime and neither should we feel guilty about it. To spend time with others, remember friends and relatives by giving them gifts to show that they are precious to us is a very Christian thing to do. It helps us to reach out to others, not be selfish or make ourselves the center of the universe. After all, it is not such a bad thing to think beyond ourselves.

So, I find that there is nothing wrong in celebrations and gift giving and pampering myself for a year that usually leaves me confused, dissipated and exhausted. 

It is only with the onset of a few gray hairs that I have begun to discover in bits and pieces some of what that elderly Christian Brother must have tried to instil in us by discovering for myself what Advent is.

I have come to love Advent as my favourite season in the Church’s liturgical calendar and look forward to celebrating it every year.

I have learned to make it a time of sharing and caring, a time to strengthen my relationship with the divine by keeping in touch with others. I make it a time to touch base with those I had forgotten, to try and restore ruined relations, to thank those who had helped me during the past year.

I have learned not to be distracted and carried away by all the external trappings of preparing for Christmas and let it consume all of my life.

I have learned not to forget to do some personal stocktaking and spring-cleaning to sift through my life of clutter and excess baggage.

I have learned to make it a time of fine-tuning myself by seeing how I missed opportunities and made wrong choices, set new goals and motivate myself to see my mistakes more clearly so that I don’t repeat them.

And somehow in all this Christmas gets to be meaningful because of Advent, a chance for celebrating life and of making my life more meaningful. 

The purple color in Church reminds me of that just as the Mass readings tell me about the events leading up to the story of Jesus’ birth.

And what about the extra special prayers, sacrifices, fasting and acts of self discipline? We have Lent for that, don’t we?

(This year, Advent began on Sunday, December 2 and ends on Monday, December 24)

Ivan Fernandes is a journalist and commentator based in Hyderabad

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