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Advent Traditions

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Cheers and peals of laughter fill our home each year as my brother and I find tickets on our pillows… tickets to the “Galloway Express.” When our dad calls, “All aboard!” we race into the car, pajama-clad, arms full of buttery popcorn, blankets draped around our shoulders. Mom hops into the driver’s seat, hands us each our scavenger hunt list, punches our first initials into each ticket, and then we’re off!

Remember the classic Christmas movie, The Polar Express? That’s where the inspiration for our annual Advent tradition comes from – except, in our case, we ride in an SUV (just a slight step down from a snow- covered, slightly-haunted, North Pole-bound train). We always set off with hot chocolate, a necessity if we’re following the movie. We also need our tickets to board – and learning our lesson from the film, we hold on tight, so as not to lose them out the window. And although we aren’t going to see Santa and his elves, we’re on a journey all the same: We’re embarking on a scavenger hunt to find the best Christmas lights and decorations in all of Cincinnati!

Each year, we have a checklist of items to find on our late-night tour, including everything from poinsettias decked out in white lights, to Mickey Mouse with a Santa hat, to the three wise men. But while this is one of our favorite family traditions, there is also a deeper meaning behind the fun.

When Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, the Magi traveled to see Him – but no one told them the Messiah had come. The wise men saw the star God placed above the stable and knew. They had such faith in Him that they trekked for miles all the way to Bethlehem on camels, following the brightest star they had ever seen, trusting that it would lead them to the Messiah. Likewise, we drive around one night every December in our modern-day camels, admiring all the beautiful lights and decorations along the way. But, like the wise men, we know that at the end of our journey is THE light. On Christmas Day, the true Light of the World is born, outshining all of the lights of this world and replacing them with a Heavenly Light: Jesus.

The manner in which the Magi found Jesus must have been such a shock. People had waited for centuries for the promised Messiah, and the wise men found Him as a baby, born of a virgin, lying in a manger. Similarly, on our scavenger hunt, one of our favorite decked-out houses to admire every year is hidden in the woods. Sometimes, the coolest lights are where we least expect them, just as the Son of God, the most amazing man to live, was born in a stable!

Those three men so long ago had such faith that the star would lead them to the brightest light of all, even if not in the way they expected. In the same way, we have to have faith and believe that God sent His only son, born of a virgin in a stable, to save the world.

This is where The Polar Express comes in. The main premise of the movie is a young boy who wanted more than anything to believe in Santa. So when he travels to the North Pole and receives the “first gift of Christmas” from the jolly old man himself because he truly believed, he doesn’t ask for video games or the newest-model skateboard. Instead, he asks for one of the bells from the reindeer’s harnesses, so he can always remember and have faith in Santa. Inspired by this scene, we can see that if we truly believe in Jesus, He will give us the means to keep our faith in Him… just maybe not in the way we expect.

HARLIE GALLOWAY is a homeschooled sophomore who loves writing, music and theater. She lives in Anderson Township with her deacon dad, mom, younger brother, two dogs and two bunnies.

This article appeared in the December 2020 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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