Advent in the Valley

In the Lower School, Advent is a prime example of the homeroom as a mirror of living culture in the home. The teacher has a role similar to the father of these boys in his care; the time we spend on certain activities – singing, wreath-making, laying out the crèche – make a strong statement about what is important, and where our focus should be. More and more, in the Valley we find Advent traditions taking root, and bearing fruit.

One staple is the Advent wreath, which takes different forms in the different homerooms. The laying of branches in a circle, the large bowl with water-fresh pine cuttings . . . none, however may compare with Mr. Willard’s creation: a pretty assortment of evergreen branches all arranged within a ‘crown’ of thorns he wove by hand. Purple- and rose-colored candles complete this ancient custom of decoration. Just as at home, the lighting of candles and the counting of days and weeks does a good deal to set a tone of expectation.

More than one homeroom has figures of the nativity, for the boys’ (and teachers’) edification and meditation. Mr. Steenson’s homeroom is the recipient of two kind gifts that make up their crèche: his parents donated a set of Fontani figures, and a former fifth-grade family built a beautiful stable with reclaimed barn wood. As Christmas approaches, the figures of Our Lady and St. Joseph wind their way through the room, coming ever closer to the still-empty manger awaiting the Child.

And singing! Song had long been a staple in the Valley, at least from the time of Mr. Joseph McCleary. Well, the rooms are musical yet again, this time with Advent hymns, from Gabriel’s Message and O Come, Divine Messiah to O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. These hymns, not only with their words, but (perhaps more importantly) with their melodies, foster a sense of expectation mingled with joy.

For the boys learn, at Holy Mass, in religion class, and throughout these weeks of Advent, that this time is not really as the advertisers and merchant hawkers want us to think – a hurried pressure-filled time to get-it-all-done before Christmas Day. Rather, Advent is the time to prepare once again for the advent of Our Lord. Candle and song, figures and wreath, may they all help us to remember this time of mystic preparing the way of the Lord.