After our first gathering around the Advent light and the singing of the first Advent hymn, an air of expectancy spreads over the family group. Now comes the moment when the mother goes around with a bowl that holds the little cards bearing the names of the new saints.
Everybody draws a card and puts it in his missal. This saint will be invoked every morning after morning prayer. Everyone is supposed to look up and study the life story of his new friend, and sometime during the coming year, he will tell the family all about it.
As there are so many of us, we come to know about different saints every year. Sometimes this calls for considerable research on the part of the unfortunate one who has drawn St. Eustachius, for instance, or St. Bibiana. But the custom has become very dear to us, and every year it seems as if the family circle were enlarged by all those new brothers and sisters entering in and becoming known and loved by all.
Then comes another exciting moment. Once more, the mother appears with the bowl, which she passes around. This time, the pieces of paper contain the names of the members of the family and are neatly rolled up because the drawing has to be done in great secrecy. The person whose name one has drawn is now in one’s special care. From this day until Christmas, one has to do as many little favors for him or her as one can. One has to provide at least one surprise every single day—but without ever being found out.
This creates a wonderful atmosphere of joyful suspense, kindness, and thoughtfulness. Perhaps you will find that somebody has made your bed or shined your shoes or has informed you, in a disguised handwriting on a holy card, that “a Rosary has been said for you today” or a number of sacrifices have been offered up.
This new relationship is called Christkindl (Christ Child) in the old country, where children believe that the Christmas tree and the gifts under it are brought down by the Christ Child Himself.
The beautiful thing about this custom is that the relationship is a reciprocal one. The person whose name I have drawn and who is under my care becomes for me the helpless little Christ Child in the manger. As I am performing these many little acts of love and consideration for someone in the family, I am really doing them for the Infant of Bethlehem, according to the word: “And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me” (Matt. 18:5). That is why this particular person turns into my Christkindl. At the same time, I am the Chris-t kindl also for the one I am caring for because I want to imitate the Holy Child and render all those little services in the same spirit as He did in that small house of Nazareth, when, as a child, He served His Mother and His foster father with a similar love and devotion.
Many times throughout these weeks, exclamations from the children can be heard, such as, “I have a wonderful Christkindl this year!” or, “Goodness, I forgot to do something for my Christkindl, and it is already suppertime!” It is a delightful custom, which creates much of the true Christmas spirit and ought to be spread far and wide.
Letter to the Holy Child
And there is still one very important thing to do for Advent. According to Austrian custom, every member of the family writes a letter to the Holy Child mentioning his resolutions for the weeks of Advent and listing all his wishes for gifts.
This “Christkindl brief” (letter to the Holy Child) is put on the windowsill, from which the guardian angel will take it up to heaven to read it aloud to the Holy Child.
Advent calendar: Take a piece of cardboard, and cut out clouds, leaving them attached at one point so that they can fold out. Cut spaces in the ladder so that they can fold down.
Take transparent paper, the same size as the cardboard. Draw and paint pictures of stars, angels, toys, and so forth on spots behind the clouds and the ladder steps. For the top cloud, draw a Christmas tree or the Christ Child in the crib. Paste this on the back of the calendar.
Each day, another cloud or ladder step should be opened until Christmas Eve is reached at the top of the ladder.
To make small children (and older ones, too) aware of the happy expectancy of Advent, there is a special Advent calendar that clever hands can make at home. It might be a house with windows for each day of Advent; every morning the child opens another window, behind which appears a star, an angel, or some other picture appropriate to the season. On the twenty-third, all windows are open, but the big entrance door still is closed. That door is to be opened on Christmas Eve, when it reveals the Holy Child in the manger or a Christmas tree.
All kinds of variations on this theme are possible, such as Jacob’s Ladder, which leads step by step to the day of Christ’s birth. All such little aids make Christmas more wonderful and special to a child, and preparing them adds to our own Christmas joy.