Yesterday was, as we know, the first Sunday of Advent, the special liturgical season that seems to creep up on us, almost without our realizing it, that liturgical time of joyfully anticipating the birth of Baby Jesus, that little infant whom God the Father sent to mankind as our Redeemer.

Advent is actually the first liturgical season of the Church year, followed by Christmas, Ordinary, Lent, Easter and Ordinary.

Do you know the colors of these seasons (as seen in a priest’s vestments on the Sunday of that season)? We have just experienced the purple color that marks Advent as seen in vestments and the candles on the Advent wreath. Christmas (white and/or gold – purity, joy, light): Ordinary time (green – life, hope and expectancy, anticipation); Lent (purple – penance and sacrifice); Easter (white and/or gold – purity, joy, light) and Ordinary.

How much of what you know about traditions, liturgical seasons and colors, feast days and fast days, and other celebrations in the Catholic Church did you learn as a youngster growing up in your family or in grammar school?

As these special days in the Church come around every year, I look back and realize how very much I did learn from Mom and Dad and from the Dominican nuns in grammar school.

Advent, for example, makes me go back in time to that season and how, growing up, we celebrated it in our home as we always celebrated Catholic feasts and holy days and traditions. I remember learning about the Advent wreath and remember having one on our table and the candles were properly lit every night at dinner. Just as they were lit in church during Mass in Advent.

And the good sisters?   They taught us so many wonderful things – great stories about people, saints, popes, Church celebrations, liturgical traditions. Who doesn’t love a well-told story and some of the nuns were wonderful storytellers and we listened, riveted, to their every word.

Fr. Townsend, who had the children’s Masses every Sunday at St. Edmunds in Oak Park, Illinois, was beyond amazing. He told great stories and always asked questions of us kids but we were OK because the nuns knew what he would talk about on Sunday and prepared us all week so that when Father asked a question, all hands were enthusiastically raised!

And our parents were riveted as well and sometimes asked questions of us after Mass!

I well remember the stories the nuns taught us in grammar school at this time of year – the stories leading up to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the story of Mary and Joseph, of their travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was great to hear their stories and then sing Christmas carols that simply retold those stories!

Above all, the sisters tried to instill in us that the Christmas gift we should most look forward to was Baby Jesus, not some item sitting under the Christmas tree, beautifully wrapped with our name on it!

Many years ago at Christmas, when I worked in a retail store, Moms and Dads would come in to shop, often bringing their children. One day, I asked a youngster who was perhaps 7 or 8, “Are you ready for Christmas?”   When he said, “yes” with a big smile, I then asked: “Are you ready to give or receive?”

It was awesome to watch his face as he pondered the question. He eventually offered with some uncertainty that maybe he was ready for both!   Who knows, maybe he is in the diplomatic corps somewhere today!

It was equally awesome to watch his Mom as she pondered the question as well. Before leaving, in a low voice with a smile, she thanked me for the question, saying it would make interesting dinner conversation!

Advent should be a time when the whole family gets ready, with joy, anticipation and thanksgiving, for the impending birth of Our Savior. The kids should know all the stories by heart.

There are countless ways that parents can impart the faith, the Church’s traditions and prayers, the lives of the saints, so much more. They can tell stories at the dinner table. They can talk about the saint of the day – or the saints that inspired the children’s names (even if, sadly, that does not happen as often today!).  They can encourage their children to ask questions. They an explain liturgical seasons and the colors!

Above all, ask your children if they are ready for Christmas!  To give or receive?

And don’t forget to have an Advent wreath! and maybe make your own Advent calendar!

Wishing you all the joy and prayerful anticipation of this beautiful liturgical season!