Every year, I get out the Advent Wreath, re-glue the fallen off pine cones and bells, straighten up or replace the candles, pin in the wayward chunks of polystyrene and plastic holly leaves, and gingerly place it on the table. Always in the hope it will look reasonably presentable as every Sunday one of the candles is lit for the four weeks of Advent until all are alight the Sunday before the great feast of Christmas.
This year, the NZ Catholic Bishops have suggested we stop phaffing (not their word!) about with pine cones and holly on our Advent wreaths, and make something more in keeping with our identity as New Zealanders. They suggested we leave the green and red to those in the Northern Hemisphere and make ours blue - to signify the sea across which we all came, whether by waka or Boeing - and with four white candles to represent the stars of the Southern Cross. Traditionally the candles are purple, signifying penance, and as purple was the most expensive dye (hence its use in royal robes) there was a sense of 'sacrifice' or 'offering' in the tradition.
I have to admit being surprised and impressed at this independence from our spiritual leaders!
I embraced this idea wholeheartedly and searched through all the likely - and some unlikely - shops for an Advent wreath frame, but polystyrene seemed the only option, and as it no longer does it for me I improvised. An unused plant pot saucer has been given a new career, and while technically not a 'wreath' without the hole in the centre, it is not going to fall apart from one Advent to the next AND the centre provides the perfect space for a paua shell, so appropriate to the new design.
So here is the new family Advent wreath.
The candles each have a red star, as the stars of the Southern Cross are depicted on our flag. They are wreathed in ribbon of sea/paua colour, and the paler evening star on the outward face is numbered in the language of our country, Maori, counting up to Christmas. Maybe the next lot of candles will be a little taller and slimmer.
I took it along to the annual ecumenical service for the blessing of Advent Wreaths (not without some forethought and a touch of apprehension as I was aware most of the wreaths would be traditional, and mine was not!) and although it wasn't the only one in the new Catholic style, it was the only one with a Santa Claus on it! But I wanted it blessed, I wanted the blessing to come into my home and be present through the wreath as we gather during Advent and for Christmas.
The extras on my wreath are decorations my adult children have given me over the years. Some have come from foreign countries as they had their wonderful overseas experiences, some are local. There is the angel, symbolising the bearer of the Christmas news and our own Guardian Angels. The dove of peace, which I pray we share and show each other especially as our families gather at this time. The pohutukawa flower, the NZ Christmas tree, which up and down the country, and especially along our coastlines, breaks into glorious red celebration at Christmas. And there is Santa Claus. Because gift giving and bringing joy to others is an integral part of what Christmas is for us. And the three wise men didn't come empty handed, so Jesus' own Christmas story includes gift giving. It possibly needs some representation of food, as the preparation, planning, and sharing of food is a very big part of our family celebrations. But inspiration for that is still to come!
So there it is. Our new tradition. And this Sunday, the first candle will be lit.
Advent blessings to you!