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  • Ellen Frederick

The Stapler and the Pink Candle

An Advent Reflection by Ellen Frederick

It was 1989, and I was sitting in my St. Francis school uniform in a pile of purple and pink scraps of construction paper. Each scrap had something written on it – a good deed, or something we could offer to the world around us. We linked them together, and for each day of Advent, we’d tear one off and see what we could do that day. That year, they had put me in charge of the stapler, which was a VERY big deal. I always made a separate chain to keep at home, too, which was strung across the wall with Scotch tape. Each of our classrooms had an Advent wreath, and we’d light the candles each morning during homeroom, and the principal would sing a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” a cappella over the loudspeaker, for us (and all of downtown) to enjoy. I still hear that song in her voice. Having come from a practicing Catholic family, and having attended Catholic schools, my childhood was steeped in Advent traditions.

We had a wreath at home, too, on our round table, in the middle of a lazy Susan. With five kids, two parents, and grandma, our table was always the most active place in our house. With our wreath, we always had a booklet of prayers from our home parish across the street, for each day of Advent. We’d pray the daily prayer before dinner each night, and we’d light the candles. We would spin the lazy Susan to see who got to blow them out, if the pink one stopped in front of me, the job was mine. I had all these traditions, but I’m not sure I was really catching on to the deeper meaning yet. I just wanted desperately to be picked for the stapler and have the pink candle land on me.

Fast forward to 2010, and I was teaching at that same school, and it was my own child wielding the stapler for the Advent Chain. It was not until I became a parent that I truly realized the anticipation of the coming of Christ. The longing, the waiting, the intensity of what was happening. With each passing year of parenthood, the desire became stronger to help my children fully understand Advent and all it brings. We do many of the same things; we have our Advent Chains, and our Advent wreath in the center of the table. Family meals are still a large part of our family’s formation, and we have little laminated questions that we ask around the table: “How can I bring a light into someone’s life?” “How has someone brought a light into my life today?” and “Who might need a light in their life?” which have helped my children, even the little ones, to think, and to share from their hearts.

We have less-common markers of Advent as well. My husband teaches and leads music at our local seminary, and as such, he dresses in liturgical colors. You can look at him and immediately know it’s Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, by the pink shirt he’s wearing with his suit. Our kids have noticed that he always matches the priest’s vestments. He leads us in singing the O Antiphons, which are used for on the evenings of December 17th-23rd, and tell of the different names of the Messiah, and of His coming.

We also created a Jesse Tree, made the ornaments, and read the corresponding Bible story each night. It follows Christ’s history from Creation all the way to His birth. We discuss the pictures, and discuss the stories.

Discussion is pretty huge for us, because our children have never been satisfied with simple answers, and for that I will be forever grateful. I want them to question. I want them to dig deeper and find the substance to their beliefs. My greatest hope is that by revisiting this anticipation, this wonder each year, that their thirst for knowledge will follow them into adulthood, and I can pass the stapler to their children.

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Dec 30, 2020

Great story, Ellen. Thanks for sharing!

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