We are in Advent, the holy time the Church sets aside for us to spiritually prepare for Christmas.

Advent is a time of looking backward and forward. We not only look back at the first coming of Christ, but also look forward to His second coming. During this time, we celebrate that Christ was born, and we remember that He promised to return.

This period of four Sundays before Christmas is a special time to think about how God loves us so much that He gave us Jesus to be our savior. The Church gives us this time so that we can prepare our hearts to receive Baby Jesus. This year, Advent began on Dec. 2 and continues until Dec. 23.

Pope Francis once said that Advent is a time given to us “to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us ... and focus on growing closer to Him through prayer and concern for others.”

This is an important time to pray. The Church urges us to make a special effort to pray more. When we pray, we can think about how to be better Christians, and how we can help the poor and needy. For those of us who made the sacraments of Penance and First Holy Communion, this is also a time to go to Confession.

For many families, Advent is observed by lighting the candles on the Advent wreath. The tradition of lighting candles around a wreath dates back before Jesus when people in the north during the dark winter months would make wreaths of evergreen and light fires. Later, Christians would adapt this tradition because Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The wreath, an endless circle, represents the endless love of God for His people. The candles represent Christ the everlasting Light of the World; and evergreens represent eternal life with Jesus in Heaven.

To make an Advent wreath, you can shape evergreens and tree branches into a circle. Then you put in four candles. The candles should be three purple ones and one pink one. You can also use four white candles. Each Sunday of Advent you and your family gather around the Advent wreath. On the first week, one candle is lit. Each week an additional candle is lit (two candles on the second week, three on the third, etc.), to symbolize that the light grows brighter the closer we come to Christmas. If the pink candle is included, it is lit on the third Sunday of Advent. After you light the candle, you and your family can say a prayer and read from the Bible.

Beyond the Advent wreath, there is the Advent calendar. Many feature Bible readings that help us mark off the days before Christmas while encouraging us to focus on the true, spiritual meaning of the season. Also, a lot of people start thinking about Santa Claus during Advent. Why not learn about St. Nicholas, whose Dec. 6 feast day occurs during Advent? That saint was very good to young children.

Advent is an appropriate time to erect manger scenes in our homes. We can keep Baby Jesus aside until Christmas, and then place Him in the manger with great love and respect. He is, after all, the greatest present we will ever receive.

With a little bit of thought of how to celebrate Advent, you will be able to do all kinds of things with your family to make Christmas a holy time of thanksgiving and glory for the birth of Jesus Christ.