It's almost that time of the year again. The shopping centres get crowded, fairy lights get tangled in the living room and let's face it, it's the only time of the year where one can sit in front of a tree and eat candy out of socks.
And while the candy is delicious (especially the Kraš KiKi candy which no one can refuse!), I'm going to sound like a broken record in saying that the true meaning of this season is one that seems to slip under the radar and especially the season of preparation, Advent.
There are two seasons for this upcoming time of the Christian calendar - Advent, which begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and finishes on Christmas Eve. Then there is the period of Christmas, which begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for twelve days, finishing on January the 6th. Advent in itself is the preparation for the coming of our Savior and a reminder of how much we need the Lord in our lives.
As many Christmas events start to unfold around us locally and throughout the world, there is one particular one that always catches my eye - Advent u Zagrebu*.
Is it just me or does social media do a great job of blasting into my face the marketing of the must-go-to-event in the capital city of Croatia?
I'l admit, I find myself each year following all things #adventuzagrebu and for those of you who have not heard of this event before, imagine fluffy white snow, fairy lights taking over the city (which I love!), live music of Christmas classics, great Croatian food, kuhano vino and a reflection on the real meaning of Christmas. I am yet to meet one person who would NOT want to go there!
Advent is a big event on the Church's calendar but do we ever take on board the meaning of the advent candles and reflect on them and how we can include them into our lives, while we prepare for Christmas? I'll admit - I was that person that knew that the meaning of Christmas was important but I didn't really look further into the meaning of Advent - until recently.
The Advent wreath has one candle per week for the season and also a fifth white candle which is then lit either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The wreath symbolises eternal life and is worthwhile the deep reflection of hope, preparation, joy, love and purity when this world seems to be getting crazier by the second.
We are given the opportunity to ponder these virtues each week during the season which serve to guide us in spiritually preparing for the celebration of the birth of our Savior. It's also a great opportunity to apply these reflections to our everyday life and not just let it be a 'Christmas' thing where as soon as the new year comes, it's forgotten about and we move onto our New Years resolution to take up one more gym class, post a picture on Facebook as proof of lifting up that weight and then give it up until the following year.
So to avoid that embarrassment of yet another failed new years resolution, let's get back to focussing on one of the best times of the year, Advent and letting you know about 2017's go-to event, Advent u Zagrebu*.
Advent in Zagreb is due to begin soon on the 2nd of December and continues until the 7th of January, 2018. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce some of the great attractions which are in store for this years event and link them to the virtues that each candle of the Advent wreath represents.
The great team at @croatiafulloflife and @zagrebtourist have been so kind as to give me a sneak peak into the 2017 program and there are some great sights to look forward to!
Whether you do get the fortunate opportunity to visit Advent u Zagrebu* and take part in the great celebration with the Croatian community or whether you'll only be able to make your local Christmas carols, the spirit of Christmas is indeed everywhere and the virtues from each of the Advent candles can be immersed into your own life to help strengthen your relationship with God.
There is quite a bit happening in Zagreb for the event but here are just a few sneak peeks of some attractions and things to do for this year's event:
Ban Josip Jelačić Square
Week 1 Advent Virtue: Virtue of Hope
One of the great ways to start your Advent u Zagrebu* experience is in the centre of the city's famous square.
In a world where there is so much heartache, the virtue of hope which represents Week 1's candle for Advent, is one we can all practice to let the ripple-effect flow into our everyday life.
Take the chance to roam around the trg* with close family and friends and live in the moment as you pass by the festive Christmas tree and admire the meaning behind the Advent wreath as it sits around a fountain.
Then be sure to enjoy the roasted chestnuts and say 'yes' to carbs by eating fritule* while you listen to the live music of local singers and bands every night.
While enjoying the sights within the square, remember that this is a time of hope and you could be someone that gives hope to a stranger or someone you know who is having a difficult time. Whether it's giving a warm meal to a homeless person on the street or just taking the time to bring someone you know with you to an event to take the time to chat to them knowing they are going through a hard time, your small act of love could be the answer to their prayer.
Zagreb's 'Be There' Advent Path
Week 2 Advent Virtue: Virtue of Faith & Preparation
When looking through the program of events for this year's Advent u Zagrebu, this one stood out to me like someone wearing a Croatian football jersey in a shopping centre crowd (I mean, who could possibly miss us?).
The 'Be There' Advent Path is a small tour that attendees of the event can take a part in. By simply following the path with your smart phone through the stunning locations of the grad* you can see what the city of Zagreb can't wait to show off to you.
Sights include the Flower Square where you can waltz around while listening to jazz music and Dolac Square where you can witness thousands of lanterns that are lit up and carried into the air for a sight not to miss.
Something else not to miss in this joyful season is reflecting on the second virtue from the Advent candles - faith and preparation. This virtue prompts us of the need to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord who carries our burdens for our sins. It prompts us to believe in his coming and the confidence that he takes care of all of our needs.
Matthew reminds us in 11:28 that our Lord is always whispering to us "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest".
Though I have read that verse countless times, each time it is like I have read it for the first time. We often forget many wise words said or read and this season can be the reminder we just needed to strive in preparing our hearts for him.
To prepare our hearts, actions like living in the moment for the #BeThereZagreb tour and not worrying about the future is what we depend on to ground ourselves and bring us back to the real reality of life.
Week 3 Advent Virtue: Virtue of Joy
I'm not sure about you, but there's something about Christmas lights that bring out the inner-child out of me and make me get so excited that it's Christmas time.
So my reaction of excitement did not surprise me when I saw what was in store for Zrinjevac Park's attraction for Advent u Zagrebu* 2017.
One of Zagreb's most picturesque parks will soon be filled with 220 decorated and sparkling fairy-light-lit trees as well as a park trail filled with small wooden houses set up where stall owners sell local products. The old musical pavillion in the park will be transformed into a stage for local talent where live entertainment is eagerly awaiting your arrival.
All of this while thousands of people walk through the famous Zagreb park while the winter snow sprinkles down on them.
Mother Teresa once said "The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy". As we reflect on the third Advent candle's virtue of joy, let's be grateful for that delicious bag of roasted chestnuts that we purchase at one of the Zrinjevac Park stalls (whoever the owner of the stall is, you're welcome for this free advertising) or be grateful for the trials that have now passed and helped us to become better versions of ourselves.
Wherever you are this Advent, take the time just to be grateful and reap the joy that comes with it.
In Zephaniah 3:17 we learn "He will delight in you with shouts of joy".
Our Lord also shouts to us with joy and delights in us as we set about this journey of life regardless of what is thrown in our way.
While you reflect on the joy that comes from your gratitude, finish off your Zrinjevac Park experience by drinking some mulled wine and dancing the night away as you listen to some local bands play on that old pavillion stage!
Christmas story in Čazma
Week 4 Advent Virtue: Virtue of Love
'Oh come, let us adore him' on the beautiful nativity scene and Christmas display that Zlatko Salaj and his family have worked on for many years.
Whether you're attending a small community event or visiting Zagreb this year, the love poured into nativity displays throughout the world is one I greatly appreciate.
Becoming more popular each year, the wonderful Christmas story comes alive on the Salaj family's property where not one corner is left uncovered. Masked in bright colours and countless lights (did I mention I like Christmas lights yet?), the story of the nativity is told through hard work, passion and love that started 20 years back on their farmhouse.
Located in Čazma, which is a 1 hour drive away from the city centre of Zagreb, it is said by many to be a journey well worth it.
Zlatko Salaj first decorated his first Christmas tree 20 years ago and since then decorated more until his passion turned into a Christmas winter wonderland bringing thousands onto his family's property since they opened to the public in 2003.
What makes their Christmas display more special than others is that each year the Salaj family add more lights to their display which means it is always growing and never the same as the previous year.
Just like the Salaj's show us the love poured into their Christmas attraction, the fourth Advent virtue of love is one we can all strive to include in whatever work we do.
As said in 1 John 3:18, "Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth".
The Christmas Story in Čazma serves as a reminder to us that actions speak louder than words. This light show located in the small town, not only is just 'another Christmas display' but shows the story of a family that pour out the love God has graced them with and turned it into a display of the spirit of Advent.
While the above are just a few of many attractions set in store for the 2017 event, there are many more captivating things to put on your to-do list while in Zagreb for a white Christmas.
Another important virtue to add to your to-do list over this season is the reflection of the 5th Advent candle virtue of purity. This white candle represents the light our pure Savior brings to us in his coming.
Whether you're booking that flight over to Croatia so you can be a part of the annual Christmas event or just having a quiet Advent by attending a local Christmas concert, his light can be shown to us through his promise of coming into a dark and dying world.
At a time where no one can deny this world is getting more violent, more uncertain and dangerous, the Psalms (27:1) remind us "The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?".
So look at Advent and Christmas in a new way this year. If you're anything like me and sometimes forget the values this season teaches us, consider the virtues of hope, faith and preparation, joy, love and purity and how you will let your voice create a ripple effect for the generations to come. Let an event just like Advent in Zagreb inspire you to let the unconditional joy of this season take over, leaving you to sing O, come, O come, Emmanuel while sipping on that kuhano vino!
Special thanks to The Zagreb Tourist Board, Croatia Full Of Life and AdventZagreb.com for providing the program and also the great images for this article!
To find out more about the exciting Croatian event, head on over to www.adventzagreb.com
Help Zagreb yet again received the Best Christmas Market in Europe award - Vote for Zagreb on https://www.europeanbestdestinations.com/christmas-markets
Kras KiKi candy: The addictive Croatian candy of my childhood.
Kuhano vino: Mulled wine. Deliciousness in a cup.
Advent u Zagrebu: Advent in Zagreb
Trg: Town square - an area where you are likely to find many cafe's and the local community.
Fritule: Mini-donut-like treats which can also be called uštipke depending on what Croatian dialect you speak.