By John Rieping | Published 18 Dec 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
Look up the noun “advent” in the New Oxford American Dictionary and you will read: “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” The roots of the word in Latin mean “to come” or “coming.”
In short, “advent” looks forward, and so does the Christian season of the same name.
My family took the weeks of Advent seriously in my childhood. The season has long been a time to happily prepare for Christmas — not celebrate it beforehand.
No Christmas decorations, music, or television specials were allowed in my childhood home before Christmas Eve except for Advent carols, an Advent calendar, an Advent candle wreath, and a nativity (a tableau of events surrounding the birth of Jesus).
We set out wooden statues of shepherds and their sheep first, and a stable with only an ox. Later Joseph and Mary would arrive with their donkey. Across the room, figures of gift-bearing wise men would lead a camel.
Before our evening meal, we’d pray and then light the number of colored candles for the current week of the season. I hoped to be chosen for that task. I loved the liveliness of fire dancing upon the wick. More importantly, the candles counted down to Christmas.
Sometimes we’d go to a “posada,” which is a nine-day Spanish and Mexican custom reenacting efforts of Jesus and Mary to find lodging in the town of Bethlehem. Although Hispanic, I didn’t know Spanish. Yet I understood the simple theater, music, and tasty refreshments in those homes.
On Christmas Eve or so, my father would buy an evergreen tree for us to ornament. We could finally play my parents’ Firestone Tires collection of recordings with uncommon Christmas songs and singers such as Perry Como and Nat King Cole. The exoticness delighted me.
On Christmas Eve night, my family would worship God at Mass and marvel. Back home, a figurine of a baby Jesus would be passed around and rocked in our hands as we sang. After kissing it, we’d place it between the forms of his earthly parents in the stable and sing the “Happy Birthday” song.
Then we sang posada carols in Spanish, which signaled that a plate of treats would soon be in my greedy grasp.
Next the gifts, if any, would be distributed. Sometimes we followed an older tradition of both Mexico and Germany and receive presents not on Christmas Eve, but on the holy day of Epiphany (aka Little Christmas, the 12th day of Christmas, etc.), which traditionally falls on Jan. 6. Epiphany celebrates Jesus being revealed to non-Jews, such as the three magi whose figurines at last arrived at the nativity stable.
I initially believed Santa Claus visited our house to reward good children, but a friend destroyed that illusion early on. Since I was the youngest in my family, the charade didn’t continue, but my mom instead labelled my gifts “From: Baby Jesus.”
I’m not the easiest person to buy a gift for. One Christmas, my mother gave me “horrible” generic toy robots instead of the expensive brand name “Transformers” toys I asked for, and my eldest brother gave me an “Erector” construction set I loved.
To spare her feelings, I exclusively played with the robots I despised. My mother pulled me aside to urge me not to ignore my brother’s offering. With the cruel honesty of a child, I explained my deception and never played with the unloved robots again.
I have been unappreciative of so many gifts I’ve received in my life. Of them all, however, God is the best present I ever received from my parents, and I am thankful.
My mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, will probably be convalescing away from home this Christmas after an unplanned stay in Madera Community Hospital this week. She is not likely to join in singing any carols or even be aware of what day it may be.
Yet her gift of faith remains. She offered it to her children by the witness of her own life. By God’s grace, I hope and trust it will one day carry her on to a far truer life than this one, a life where the celebration will never end.
In the meanwhile, this life we believers lead is just another Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of our God. “Happy birthday” the angels may sing when our journey ends.
By Mark Smith | Published 13 Dec 2014 in The Madera Tribune | Used with Permission | All rights reserved |
Flurries of rain hours before sunrise didn’t keep the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and others from traditional Mexican songs and prayer Friday, Dec. 12, during the annual celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
More than a thousand Maderans waited inside St. Joachim’s Catholic Church as the Guadalupanos carried a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe across 4th Street before 5 a.m. as heavy rain continued to fall.
Carlos Rodriguez, the group’s president, said the traditional ceremony served to honor the “Virgen de Guadalupe,” — a title for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ — and her “birth” into Mexican culture in 1531 A.D. via an unusual image, one well known across the world as a miracle.
Across four days in December of 1531, Rodriguez said Mary appeared from Heaven to 57-year-old Juan Diego, a widower, farmer and weaver belonging to the native Chichimeca people and the first Roman Catholic saint of the Americas. She allegedly asked him to have a new church quickly built on the outskirts of Mexico City.
As she spoke in his native Nahuatl — aka Aztec — language, Diego became convinced she was truly the mother of Jesus. He spoke to Mexico City’s archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, who asked Diego — a convert to Christianity — for proof of her identity.
On the final day she appeared to Diego, Dec. 12, Mary told him to gather flowers atop the city’s Tepeyac Hill. There he found a swath of Castilian roses in bloom out of season and out of place — the plants are native to Spain, not Mexico.
Mary arranged the roses in Diego’s tilma, a sort of cloak or poncho, before he went to the bishop. When Diego opened his cloak before him, the roses fell to the floor and on his tilma was the image of a pregnant Mary standing on the moon and in front of the sun. Some interpreted this as a sign that her child Jesus was superior to the Aztec moon and sun deities.
After the building of the requested chapel, Diego lived as a hermit in a small hut nearby and shared his story to those who came to see the tilma until his death in 1548.
Rodriguez said recalling that powerful image, as well as the love provided by the Virgin of Guadalupe to her people, was a worldwide tradition and one celebrated in Madera, California, since the Guadalupanos chapter was formed in 1927.
“Friendship, love, and unity is what she gives us,” Rodriguez said. “The whole continent celebrates this date. It’s like being a family. We feel like a family with this. She has a lot to give all of us.”
Once the group entered St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary upheld, the audience rose to sing many songs such as “Las Mananitas,” a traditional Mexican birthday song, before they prayed for the “blessed mother” and participated in a Catholic mass service.
After that, free breakfast was served to hundreds in Holy Spouse’s Hall across the street from St. Joachim’s, as they celebrated past sunrise with more music and dancing.
Normally, without the heavy rain that spent most of Thursday and Friday drenching the state, the Guadalupanos would walk from Clinton and Tozer streets to St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary and sang to Madera as its citizens woke.
Because of Friday morning’s stormy weather, however, the group instead carried Mary across 4th street from Holy Spouse’s Hall to St. Joachim’s in a shorter, but powerful procession.
That joined eight previous days of rosary prayer by Guadalupanos members in front of the Catholic church to honor one of their most holy figures, members said, as strongly as the group could each year.
“Every year, whether it’s rain or shine, we celebrate her birthday every single time,” said Adrian Medina, a 20-year-old Guadalupanos member who helped set up the event. “Even with the rain, everything is for our blessed mother, Juan Diego, and for our community to represent who we are.”
For information on the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and the events they hold all year, call 559-647-5200.
I've written three series of columns for The Madera Tribune newspaper in my life, and this most recent one began nearly three years ago. What words I have used most in this one can be seen in the heart-shaped "word cloud" above.
That cloud is ever growing of course, and as of a month ago it has spread to another website, Catholic 365. Those interested can read updated versions of my past writings on that site. Visit http://catholic365.com/author/john-rieping/ for a list.
Regardless, thank you for taking the time to share in my heart's ramblings. May God bless you and all you love. Please keep me in your prayers.