The over all guiding principles behind my designs for the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer Beads were that they had to be:
beautiful, because just beauty alone can elevate the mind and soul to prayer,
have symbolic and catechetical value, for helping deepen the spiritual disposition appropriate to Advent,
and be easy (ergonomical) to use, and to maintain.
Why I Needed the Beads
I wrote about this before, but here is more detail about why I needed to create these novena beads in the first place. The goal initially was to just eliminate the obstacles to saying it, so that I had a better chance of staying committed to finishing this unique novena.
When one becomes distracted with trying to keep count, it's easy to lose focus and maintain a prayerful disposition. At least that's what happens to me! I'm sensitive and contemplative by nature, so little things can distract me very easily. Keeping 15 prayers accounted for was always frustrating without a dedicated tool and trying to use an imaginary third hand was not helping. It was almost impossible if I left praying the novena at night, in bed. If this describes any of your experiences with this novena, you might find these prayer beads helpful.
Years ago I found nothing out there I could buy, except for one rare set of beads that was sold out, and featured a medal of St Andrew - not the best interpretation unfortunately. (See my post on the meaning and misconception about this novena.) So after the first hasty set of beads that I made for myself (out of desperation halfway through Advent several years ago), my imagination began to percolate on how I can make another set that was better and more beautiful, more meaningful, and more lasting!
One of my goals was simply a functional one. To create a smooth, distraction free, sensory experience while using the beads by selecting proportionally sized prayer beads, along with their corresponding spacers, so that you would always know where you are, even if you are saying the prayers in the dark, like in bed. (Particularly helpful for the visually impaired, I might add!) Some beads I have used over the years, on different rosaries or chaplets for example, are too close together or are too far apart, and so the fingers do not move over the beads naturally so as to comfortably rest on them, and therefore, end up being more of distraction rather than an aid to prayer.
About the Bracelets
I've tried to wear rosary bracelets before (with clasps) but they always seem to be a pain to put on and off with one hand. I never warmed up to memory wire either (even though they seemed so cool!), because I preferred low profile/low impact bracelets, so that I could keep the bracelet on all day and not have it clank around so much and get in the way of my daily activities.
Stretch chord bracelets then became a favorite, simply for the ease of getting them on and off. It increased the chances of ultimately actually using them to pray with because it was more likely I would wear them, and thereby be reminded to pray. I didn't however, like the quality of typical commercial stretch chord prayer bracelets and how they were finished. They used an inferior chord that always frayed and eventually gave out, and the knot was always visible and took away from the aesthetic of the design. Not to mention, so many silver plated small parts that were impossible to keep looking bright over many years.
I sure set pretty high requirements for myself! I searched for the most sturdy stretch chord I could find, that still fit the bead hole, and tied the knot as securely as possible (with a dab of glue) and hid it inside the bail that holds the pendant/medal, for both extra security and aesthetic value.
I used silver colored spacer beads that are made of fire-polished Czech glass or crystal instead of silver plated spacers common used, so the beads will maintain their sparkle and age beautifully. The medals are made either of an affordable nickel free zinc alloy that will maintain it's color, or solid sterling silver that is easily cleaned, with a polishing cloth, since it is on the end of the bracelet.
By creating multiple sizes for better fit options, and with common sense mindful usage practices (like rolling the bracelet on and off on your non-dominant hand instead of pulling on it hard when taking it on and off), my stretch chord bracelets can last for many Advents to come!
About the Symbolism of the Beads
So here's a little about the anatomy of my prayer beads, the components I chose, and some of the symbolism behind them.
Other than the olive wood beads, which will be discussed later, all the other beads come in a beautiful shade of purple or violet, the color designated for the liturgical season of Advent.
I searched only for the best colors and materials that would reflect the simplicity and dignity of this novena prayer.
Some of the violet colored beads are made of semi precious amethyst stones, others with Czech glass, and two sets of beads made of small rose bud Czech glass shapes that were selected in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast falls during Advent. The rose bud beads specifically recall her special sign of the proof of her presence, -roses in winter. This evokes another image of roses and Our Lady from the carol, Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming,
Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
The carol (one of my all time favorites!), refers to the prophecies in Isaiah 11:1 of "... a shoot shall sprout from the stump* of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom."
This particular deep violet, rose bud set of beads (that evoke a dark midnight sky) has two designs: one, where all the 15 beads run together (great for people who like to say the novena all at once) and another, where the beads are divided in 5 sets of 3, (great for those who like to divide up their prayers three times a day, or just to know their place better while saying it, or simply just like the look of it!).
The spacer beads I carefully selected are made of silver colored fire-polished Czech glass that help evoke the starry night sky that surrounds the Star of Bethlehem.
Of the beads that are separated in three groups of five beads, there are also two diamond shaped beads that reminded me of a diamond shaped star, or the Star of Bethlehem, that one could ponder on while praying, take a pause or rest with, or just gaze in wonder of it's beauty. (This set is my personal go-to set, as I like to have the option of breaking up the prayers throughout the day or just to know I am a third of the way through, etc.)
About the Chaplet and Strand Designs
With the other two designs, the chaplet and the strand, the beads are strung on very strong yet flexible nylon coated wire.
I created one bead set that is a chaplet (i.e. not to be worn as a bracelet), simply out of recognition that not every woman may like to wear bracelets, and that men pray this novena as well, and can also use the aid of beads. (The chaplet and the strand bead sets were specifically created for these reasons.) The chaplet uses heavier semi precious amethyst stone beads with an elaborate medal of the nativity with the Star of Bethlehem.
For the bead set that is not a chaplet or bracelet, but a single strand, I chose to use olive wood beads from Bethlehem, in order to particularly put us in touch with actual matter from Bethlehem, like a relic as it were. It also symbolizes the wood of the Cross, the instrument of our salvation for which Christ came, and the material of the trade of St Joseph the carpenter. St Joseph, the protector and guide of the Holy Family can be our guide and strength when we are weary on our spiritual journey to Bethlehem. That is why the strand begins with the Star and ends with a medal of the Madonna and Child. This is also the suggested method to use the strand beads set during prayer: to start with the Star and follow it to Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus. Hematite was used as spacer beads on this set, partly because I saw it all over on my trip through he Holy Land, and partly because it looks like strong metal and give the overall sense of the strength of St Joseph.
The symbol that is featured on all the prayer beads is (or contains) the Star of Bethlehem, in two traditional Christmas versions: either as a comet, as in Italian art popularized by the painter Giotto and later in traditional Italian nativity scenes, or as the stationary North Star more familiar to those of us in the United States.
The version of the star that looks like a comet, a star in motion, is especially helpful to mediate on during Advent precisely because it is moving, or leading us towards Bethlehem. It is a fitting visual while praying this novena to help us look for signs that God places in our lives that lead us to Himself. The stationary star, with it's tail pointing straight down, means it's already Christmas, Jesus is here! and can be found present in every tabernacle in the Catholic Church. Both versions are potent visuals to help us to enter more deeply into the symbolism of the Star of Bethlehem and to Whom it leads us to.
As an example, the star that is described in the Gospel of Matthew, inspired the Wise Men (also known as the Magi, or Kings from the East), to seek out it's meaning. God chose to speak to the Magi through signs they were already familiar with, the signs of the heavens and the prophesies they had studied.
Inspired by the great wonder this particular star pointed to, they left all behind and set out to follow it. In the darkness of these anticipatory winter days of Advent, like the Wise Men, we can look to the Star of Bethlehem as our inspiration as well.
What signs or means does God use in our lives today, that we are familiar with, to point us towards His Son? We can be inspired by the Magi to pay attentions the signs around us, our metaphorical star, and set out on a journey to seek the new born King.
It's a fruitful spiritual disposition to cultivate during Advent, (and indeed everyday) the attitude that we are on a journey, seeking to be with our Savior.
Whether you enjoy the simple beauty of the violet Czech glass, or amethyst stone beads, the delicate Czech rosebud beads that evoke Our Lady, or the strength of St. Joseph with the olive wood beads, praying with For the Love of Beauty brand beads made for ChristmasNovena.com, offers a genuinely rich experience of contemplation during the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena and Advent Season.
If you have one of these prayer bead sets, let me know what you think, or if you'd like one yourself, let me know your favorite designs. I can also try and custom make a set of beads for you as well if you like, just send me a note! Either way, looking forward to hearing from you!
Happy and fruitful praying!