During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Advent calendars have become a popular tradition in many families. Oftentimes, there are small gifts or candy behind each door of an Advent calendar, but School Sisters of Notre Dame sisters and associates encourage you and your family to try something different this year– a reverse Advent basket. The idea is simple. Instead of receiving a small gift to mark the days of Advent, purchase a food item that goes into a basket each of the 28 days of Advent. By the end, the basket is filled with food items, which you can share with your local food bank or a neighbor in need.
Sister Gilda Bruce, who celebrates her 50th Jubilee in 2022, first came across the idea on the internet. After presenting the idea to her community of sisters and associates in California last year, participation in the project received a resounding, ‘yes.’
“So many [Advent calendars] have chocolate or a little toy or something you are getting,“ said Janice England, who has served as a SSND associate for close to 20 years. “I thought the reverse Advent basket made sense, especially when there are so many people out there who don’t have even the basics. This is a way of celebrating the season of Advent and focusing on giving instead of getting.”
The sisters and associates came up with a calendar that lists a suggested food item for each day of Advent. Participants are also encouraged to say a daily prayer to remember those in need.
“It’s a daily reminder,” England stated. “During Advent, in the time you’re shopping for friends or making your own wish list, there is this daily practice of giving. And it’s easy because we’re already going grocery shopping. It’s not like you have to go to a specialty store.”
And while it can be tempting to just put the whole month’s worth of food in a box or basket at once, doing so takes away from the project’s purpose. “Don’t buy all the stuff and just put it in the box,” cautioned England. “That’s not the point. The point is each day to be mindful and prayerful of the item going to someone who is in need, and pray for them.”
Added Sister Gilda, “It’s such a simple thing that can help you refocus every day.”
While any non-perishable food item is appreciated, there are a few helpful tips to make sure our neighbors in need can effortlessly make use of donated food items. First, consider purchasing pull top cans and packages of tuna or chicken since not everyone has access to a can opener. Also, try to choose items that require minimal extra ingredients. Packages that need ingredients such as eggs, milk or oil to be added could make it too difficult for some to prepare.
In 2021, Advent starts on November 28 and ends December 24. The reverse Advent basket is a great way to prepare our hearts and minds as we head into Christmas and remind us of the true meaning of the season.
“One of the things I want people to get out of it is an openness of heart or an openness to good things happening in your life,” said Sister Gilda. “You can be the one who creates something good for somebody else, but at the same time, you’ve created a space in your own heart for more good stuff to come to you, too. There’s a constant flow.”