This year, my Advent preparations began in the first days of November. After this month-long lockdown was announced, with its closure of "non-essential" shops, I suddenly realised I only had limited time in which to find candles for our Advent wreath, or -gulp! horror! - we'd have to wait until almost the second Sunday for the next opportunity. My work commitments - plus my desire to avoid the growing crowds - meant I confined my increasingly futile search to shops in my area rather than a trip to Westfield, say... which in turn meant that when I finally, almost unexpectedly came across a display including small pink and lavender-coloured, scented candles in glass jars, I nearly broke into a little dance of triumphant delight. OK, so they're not "classic" candles, but neither are they red or gaudily decorated - and their promised burning time means the first candle should, with care, just about make it through the next four weeks.
And so, on Saturday afternoon, in the final hour of pre-Advent daylight, I prepared our Advent wreath, collecting scented herbs and variegated greenery from our garden. It will need refreshing every few days, but doing this, and discovering what God and nature provide, is part of the quiet enjoyment. For now, I've decided to leave the candle lids on until they're ready to be used; I'm hoping for a gradual increase in fragrance, each new candle adding to and intermingling with the fresh lavender and rosemary. The three pale lavender candles are rather grandly called Lavender Silk - though they also contain chamomile; their scent is, unsurprisingly, calming and stilling. The Gaudete candle is called Pink Peony, and contains peony, rose and apple; a sharper combination with an underlying muskiness.
And the white, Christ candle? It contains white lilac and amber, and is called Clean Cotton - and yes, it does smell freshly laundered. And there's something utterly appropriate about that name. Jesus did not come in grandeur; he didn't spend his life dressed in brocade or satin, but in humble homespun... and in plain swaddling clothes at his birth. What better fabric, then, to greet his birth than clean, white cotton...?
Have a blessed Advent, everyone, and may there be times of open-hearted, hope-filled stillness and preparation for us all!