This is not Christmas Season.
Nope. That starts December 24.
We are now in the season of Advent, (from the Latin for “to come”) which has its own rich and rewarding traditions, handed down from many cultures, and deserving of our attention.
My rector, the Rev. Elizabeth J. Powell, gave an interesting talk on the history of Advent recently, and I’d like to share some high points with you.
- The first evidence of a season of Advent is from Spain, to prepare for the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6 (the 12 Days of Christmas, which I’ll explore in another post.) Also, in Gaul, on November 11, St. Martin’s day (a patron saint of soldiers) began 40 days of preparation much like Lent for candidates for baptism.
- The first liturgy for Advent began in the mid-fifth century with a theme of awaiting the Incarnation. Pope Gregory the Great put together special prayers for the four Sundays preceding the Mass of the Nativity to help the community focus on that.
- In Northern Europe, the traditional theme was an expectation of the return of Christ in glory.
Advent traditions from these themes (preparation for baptism, the birth of Christ and the return of Christ) have are interesting and varied.
- In some centuries, the first theme above was so emphasized that no music or weddings were allowed in Advent. In Gallican rites, even “Alleluia” was dropped for the season.
- Bagpipers in Rome led shepherds to reenact the Gospel story of the birth of Christ.
My favorite Advent traditions are:
- The Advent Wreath. Three purple candles, one pink, and one white one in the middle are lit week by week, with prayers, at each meal during the four weeks before Christmas. The white one is lit on Christmas Eve, and then the wreath is part of the light we use to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
- The Advent Calendar. This starts December 1, and continues until December 24. The windows behind each number may have a picture, candy, an ornament or other surprise. A German tradition originally, it is a delightful way to count down to Christmas!