I submitted the idea to First Things, but they did not find it "suitable" for their daily article. Strange, for a publication who's purpose to to place religious faith in the public square. Anyway, what I submitted follows:
For the third week of Advent.Advent LightsAn Alternative to Secular “Christmas Lights”
By Kent Wendler
If you are like me you may wish for something more appropriate to the Advent season than the frequently gaudy, sometimes even kitschy decorative lighting that seems to appear every year after the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving in the U.S.) or even sooner.
Here is a modest idea, based on the Advent wreath, which evolved over several years. It is inexpensive but requires some assembling. It uses items available in North America, but I cannot address what is available elsewhere. You can probably adapt this idea to your local circumstances.
You will need a five light electric candolier which uses “C7” bulbs, as in the photograph. These are usually readily obtainable every year when business Christmas promotions start. It will probably come packaged with five festively colored bulbs. Save these for Christmas Eve.
You will also need to separately purchase five ceramic C7 bulbs: one white, three purple (substituting for liturgical violet), and one pink (substituting for liturgical rose). It is very important that you use ceramic bulbs. These are the ones that appear to glow with a constant color over the entire bulb. Do not use “transparent” or “inside frost” (sometimes called “opaque”) bulbs. These present a visual “bright spot” from the glowing filament, and from a distance the pink is difficult to distinguish from the purple. Painting a bulb usually produces a splotchy and unsatisfactory result. “LED” (‘light emitting diode”) bulbs are very new on the market, are still very expensive and I do not know if they would be suitable.
Ceramic purple bulbs may be difficult to find at your local businesses, as they appear relatively dim and seem to be an unpopular color. They can be found easily, however, with an internet search for “ceramic purple c7”. They are less expensive if purchased in boxes of 25, so you might want to share an order with friends. The same is true for the ceramic pink bulbs.
You might also consider substituting pink and blue nightlight bulbs available in some infant supply departments. Blue is a bit removed from violet but this is essentially a private devotion so you have that latitude.
After you have the bulbs you need, simply insert the three purple and one pink bulb into the candolier, with only the first purple bulb tightened so that it will light. The center light, representing the Christ Child, is vacant. (If safety is a consideration, e.g., small exploring fingers, loosely insert the center white bulb.) Then on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, display the candolier with the one lit purple bulb so that it is visible from the street. On the Second Sunday eve tighten the second purple bulb so that it lights. On the third (Gaudete Sunday), the pink; and so on. Then on Christmas Eve remove the purple and pink bulbs, replace them with festive lights and insert (or tighten) the center white bulb. This can then be displayed through the rest of the Christmas season along with the rest of the “whole house” decorations you might have.
It is my hope that this might provide another small way to be “in this world but not of it.”