Library / Free Content

Sanctity of the Season: On Advent and Imitation


“We don’t want to be so familiar with Christmas that it becomes foreign. The fulcrum of all of history rests on this singular event when God, who has no beginning or end, began. “
—Noelle Mering, Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday

For centuries, Christians have looked forward to Christ’s promise to come again. This hopeful stance of the Church in anticipation of meeting her bridegroom has its greatest expression during Advent when we not only celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s birth, but prepare our own hearts and minds for His glorious second coming. 

Yet, with the annual circus-like display of material goods in storefronts and online, the call to make ready our own hearts and minds becomes ever more challenging and outside the normal routine. As teachers, we have the beautiful opportunity to do things a little differently during Advent. We have the time and space to bring the discipline of Advent into the classroom, punctuating the preparation of our own souls, and those of our students and families. We look to the liturgy of Advent as our guide.

Liturgy calls us to duty, to action, to practice, to prayer. Liturgies are also communal. The Catechism calls us during Advent to participate in this special way, 

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (CCC 524)

Did you catch that? The Church makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah! Making a truth present in oneself or in the world is an act of humble embodiment. Analogously, this is precisely what we mean when we speak of Imitation. And through imitation, we can fully enter into the graces of the Advent season, uniting ourselves with the desire of the whole Church.

A quick recap: Imitation is one of the Seven Foundations of Pedagogy, which rests on the fact that truth is knowable; in fact, Truth came to us as a Person, and is coming again!  It is in His image and likeness we are made. To be an “image” of something is to imitate it. We recognize that the first step of knowing and learning is this step of attentive imitation. Imitation, then, is not mere copying, but embodying

Some classroom practices that encourage imitation and the embodiment of the Advent anticipation of Christ’s birth and second coming are the following:

  • Simplify classroom decor, turn lights down at a given point in the day (such as with prayer, transitions, or even all day), and add purple fabric to the class prayer table or displays. The Church simplifies her altar decorations, light, and sound at this time and priests wear purple or violet for most of Advent. 
  • Imitate the ancient church’s longing for the Messiah’s coming by singing or reciting the O Antiphons. The actual days of observance for the O Antiphons are December 17-24, but can be observed with students during the Advent season. Join in the cry of Israel for redemption through this solemn practice. O Antiphons form the verses for O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
  • Imitate the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem during the night of Christ’s birth through the practice of Las Posadas. Students can re-enact the roles of Mary and Joseph, the innkeepers they meet along the way, as well as those from the manger scene at Christ’s Birth. (The 2023 Advent Calendar from the US Bishops marks December 16th as the day to begin Las Posadas.) 
  • Prepare a live Tableaux (or Tableau) of the Nativity. Tableaux is a technique in which students perform a scene, through imitating the roles of characters in that particular scene, often as a ‘still life’. Through embodying each part, students take on the depth of knowledge, emotion, faith, and virtue of each character.  Narrate the scene once it is set.

I invite you to try one of these sacred routines in your classrooms, and I pray that it will assist you and your students to embody the long-awaited coming of our Messiah. May the holy season of Advent make present this incomparable historical moment in each of your hearts! A blessed Advent and Christmas season to all.