What does Advent mean to me? Oh, let me count thy ways it lights up my life!

This is my absolute favorite time of the Church year. It is the beautiful build-up to one of the most monumental events in history, not just to the faithful but to the secular world as well (the evidence of Jesus’ existence and impact is woven throughout our world in myriad ways even if we hardly recognize them because they are so ingrained).

But just as the season itself is a build-up, it’s taken me my whole life to truly appreciate the meaning of Advent and learn some fruitful ways of approaching the season.

Turning to simplicity is a start: the simple act of lighting one purple candle and watching it glow. What a rush that brings to me now each and every time! That light is powerful; a beginning of something utterly astounding: God entering our human world so that we might get to know Him and understand better how to love. (wow!)

I have to admit, though, that certain events in recent years have helped me more fully immerse myself in this place of beauty, peace, restfulness, calm anticipation.

Last year was my first Advent celebration by candlelight for women at a local parish. The evening included beautifully decorated tables, all individually designed by table hosts, along with coffee and dessert, lots of happy womanly chatter, music and a talk on Advent. I was there as the speaker then and had the honor of helping to dedicate the evening to my friend Roberta, founder of the group and fellow mother of five who had left our world a few weeks prior. This year, I returned not as a speaker but a guest at one of the tables. And oh, was that a lovely experience!

I went to the wrong table at first, passing by one bearing a tempting red-velvet cake. I drooled over it — one of my favorites — and thought how lucky those women were to get to sample that. A short while later I found out that was my table after all. The baker added some lemon rind to the frosting to give it just a hint of citrus loveliness.

The would have started my Advent off right and well, but the very next night another local parish put on a similar event, modeled after the first, and asked a friend and I and a pianist (also a friend) to do the music. One of the songs we sang was a duet, “To My Surprise,” which is really a conversation between Mary and Elizabeth. We felt honored to be part of this special gathering of women.

And then last night our Catholic elementary school presented its annual Advent program. My good friend Katie is the choreographer, and I am always utterly impressed by the grace she coaxes out of the little dancers. Here’s a sampling of the final song and our first-graders doing one of their numbers, my youngest son among them. They are so wiggly and precious!

Speaking of first-graders, the Joy Bag will make an appearance at our home soon. Here’s a preview from a couple years ago.

This…is what Advent has come to mean to me. Joy-filled celebrations, light in the darkness, hopeful expectation, surprises, warmth, love, peace. I start out the season with these events filling up my mind and heart and then try my hardest to carry the feeling that emanates from these to me into the rest of the days; all leading up to the biggest-event yet.

To me, Christmas would be a fairly meaningless holiday without Advent, just as Easter would not be nearly as powerful without Lent. In the life of the Church, these festivities are all part of the whole. And they add a depth to my life for which I am truly grateful.

One more video (here), and this one you won’t want to sidestep. In a mere two minutes it says everything Advent should be in a way that makes me even more excited to breathe it all in!

Q4U: What is your favorite Advent memory?

Copyright 2011 Roxane Salonen