For those of you in highly commercialized countries (I won’t name names, but the initials are USA, for one…), before Thanksgiving is past, Christmas decorations have hit the shop shelves. Before Christmas is really digested, Valentine’s ads appear. I hope that you’ll bear with me, as I contemplate a holiday between your Thanksgiving, and Christmas: Advent.
In today’s global village, people around the world are aware of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, though it might not be a part of their indigenous culture or religion; they may even celebrate them, though that be more of a marketing incentive rather than a religious one. I grew up in Kansas, and though we were aware of Advent as an event leading up to Christmas, we never celebrated it – we rarely, if ever, had an advent calendar, or advent wreath of candles. Here in Switzerland, Advent is like an extended Christmas; our personal advent calendar contains small gifts, and of course chocolate; this year, with a teenager in the house, I also included gag gifts. Our particular form is the Tischibo bags, hung from a rustic red metal heart frame with hooks.
What is the history behind Advent? What is its true meaning? Advent, which comes from the Latin Adventus (which is actually a translation from the Greek word parousia), had two meanings: In relation to Christmas, it is the inner preparation for remembering the first coming of Jesus as a babe into the world as a human, so that he could fulfil God’s plan for salvation for all. For Christians, the second meaning is a time to reflect on, and prepare for, the Second Coming of Christ, which will be the end of time for Earth (no one knows the day or hour, and so the Bible tells us to be prepared – like someone on call needs to be ready to go when the call comes). As an event, it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas; this year that would be the 27th of November, as Christmas itself falls on a Sunday.
There are several expressions of celebrating Advent: The calendar, the wreath, and devotions.
The calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century, and usually begins on the 1st of December. They can take on any form imaginable, from a simple paper calendar, to gift boxes, or gift bags labelled 1 – 24. Consecutive numbers are opened one per day from the 1st to Christmas Eve. Sometimes the calendar includes a Bible verse and a prayer or Christian devotion for that day of the Advent. There are even some towns that become living Advent calendars; this tradition began in Stockholm, Sweden.
The wreath, usually a horizontal decoration placed on a table, is made of evergreen boughs (real or synthetic) with four or five candles, representing the four Sundays prior, and Christmas day. The four are usually red, with the white Christmas candle centred. One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, with an additional candle lit each week. The concept originated with German Lutherans in the 16th century, though the modern form didn’t catch on until the 19th century, likely in conjunction with the calendar. For a detailed history of the wreath, click here.
The devotions are readings from the Bible accompanied by a prayer, to prepare the heart and mind for the Reason for the Season – the coming of Jesus as a man to Earth.
If you’ve never made an Advent calendar or wreath before (there is still time to prepare one!), or you want to try something new, below are a few examples I’ve collected from Pinterest. Please share in the comments below what kind you use, or what your traditions around this time of the year are!