Little Boys and the Advent Wreath

by Gretchen Crowder

Each year since my oldest was born, I’ve had great intentions to do an Advent wreath with the boys. I even bought a wreath and all the candles when my oldest was four, but Christmas came and went without lighting the candles. So this past year, I was determined. I set out the wreath in the middle of the dinner table and looked up a prayer on my phone to pray with my family on the First Sunday of Advent.

“This is an Advent wreath,” I explained to the boys. “There are five candles in my wreath—four to represent the weeks of Advent and the white one to represent the birth of our Lord.” Immediately, my sons reached for the candles. Then each demanded that he should be the one to light the candle all by himself. When I refused to have them play with fire, I lit the first candle and read the prayer aloud. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one small hand after another reach for the fire “to see if it was hot.” Needless to say, the prayer had a lot of pauses throughout, but we pushed through. As the boys began to eat their supper, I wondered if they were still too young.

The next day as I prepared their dinner, they waited for me, babbling about random things at the table. The wreath and the candles were safely out of their reach on a side table. I sat their food in front of them and issued all the usual warnings about not throwing food or placing their food in their water cups. (It is a thing they do; I don’t know why.) I reminded them that if they ate all their food, they would get a treat. Then, as I went back to the counter to grab napkins, I heard my oldest ask, “But, Mom, what about the wreath? We haven’t lit the candle yet.” Well, who could say no to that? So I pulled out the wreath and all its candles and placed it back in the middle of the table. This time, I told my oldest son he could hold the lighter with me to light the candle. I also reminded them that we don’t touch fire. They seemed to understand. This time I got through the whole prayer without interruption. Of course, once it was done, I had a barrage of questions as they asked about each stage in the making of a candle and then burst into laughter over what might happen if the wax melted the candle and started the table on fire. But we made it through the prayer.

Sometimes if the first time doing something new with my children fails, I feel like I should just not do it again. It can often be overwhelming to imagine teaching my children about the faith. How do I tell them the story of Mary and Joseph and make it sound cooler than the Elf on the Shelf? How do I help them understand how we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival? It can be daunting.

However, as they taught me this last Advent and Christmas season, I put way too much pressure on myself. The boys thought the candles were the coolest thing ever. And amidst the discussions of how a wick gets into a candle and why it is able to light on fire and not burn the table, they also stated, “We are doing this to prepare for baby Jesus.” I planted seeds even without realizing it, by letting them be little boys and ask questions and be curious.

We did not pray with the wreath every day, but we definitely hit every week and lit the white candle to celebrate Jesus’s birth. And all of it was by their insistence that we not forget the prayer.

Perhaps how I teach my sons about faith will be super messy and take a really long time, but in the end, I think they are understanding more than I can even realize.

Gretchen Crowder

Gretchen Crowder

Gretchen Crowder is the Director of Campus Ministry at Jesuit Dallas and an adjunct faculty member for the University of Dallas. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. After teaching mathematics for almost a decade, she fully embraced her passion for ministry. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband and three sons.

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