Many years ago, I remember reading a sermon with the title, “Hallowthankmas.” The preacher was making the point that the commercial world has merged Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas into one, big, fat three-month shopping come-on. The Urban Dictionary defines Hallowthankmas as a holiday “celebrating the most wonderful time of the year, October through December. It is a time of great warmth, sharing, parties, and of great American commercialism. People complain about overlapping holidays, but why? The distinction between the three major holidays is only becoming less clear.”
For an increasing number of people, Advent provides an antidote to the frenzies of the holiday season. Advent lasts for roughly four weeks, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, or the nearest Sunday to November 30, and ending on Christmas Eve. Taken from the Latin word, adventus, meaning an arrival, Advent focuses on spiritual reflection, penitence and preparation as we inch closer to the Nativity celebration. Here are five interesting facts about Advent:
LOOKING TO THE HEAVENS INSTEAD OF THE MANGER
No one knows when the first Advent celebration was formally observed, but the seeds seem to have been planted in the late 4th century. Church documents of this period mention fasting and faithful church attendance as spiritual disciplines in the weeks before Christmas. In the late 6th century, the church in modern-day France was keeping the liturgical practices for Lent from November 11 to December 24 (Advent has been called a “mini-Lent”).
Early Christians did not focus on the appearance of the Christ-Child in the manger, but rather the Second Arrival of Jesus in the clouds. During the Middle Ages, the Advent season became connected to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
THE COLOR PURPLE
You may have seen an Advent wreath in church ringed by colorful candles. Most of the candles are purple, the traditional hue of repentance and royalty. During Advent, we are urged to clear the obstacles of sin so that we might prepare the way of the King. The candle that is lit on the third Sunday of Advent is usually pink or rose. In some churches, this is “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete is a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” The emphasis on penitence shifts to the joy and gladness of God’s redemption in Christ.
Every December, when our children were young, they looked forward to Advent calendars. Usually we found simple cardboard calendars with colorful renderings of shepherds, Wise Men and Nativity scenes, which our children eagerly thumbtacked above their beds. Every night, just before we turned off the lights, we let them open the appropriate flap to reveal a scripture, which they read out loud.
A German named Gerhard Lang produced the first printed Advent calendar in the early 1900s. When Lang was a child, his mother let him put religious pictures on a piece of cardboard on the nights leading up to Christmas. Lang’s design included the tiny doors that are a staple of most Advent calendars today. Some Advent calendars are quite fancy, crafted of wood and shaped like churches, Christmas trees or snowy villages. These three-dimensional calendars contain drawers that can hold small toys or pieces of candy.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF TREE
Most households sport a festive Christmas tree during the month of December, but some families mark the days to Christmas with a Jesse Tree. The custom springs from the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David, who was the ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Jesse Trees are decorated with symbols of the people, prophesies and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Ornaments can vary, but common ones include the Ten Commandments, Passover Lamb, Star of David and a shepherd’s staff. Learn more about the Jesse Tree, including making your own, HERE.
NOT JUST FOR CATHOLICS, ANYMORE
Advent has traditionally been associated with such liturgical churches as Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican. Recently, however, evangelicals have begun to take up the practice.
A 2008 USA Today article quoted Craig Klamer, an executive for Family Christian stores, who noted that the chain has seen an uptick in Advent product sales, including candle sets and wall calendars.
Jeff Wright, a nondenominational pastor, admitted that Advent is considered “too formal, too Catholic” for most evangelicals, but also believes that more believers are finding it a way to “connect more deeply with our Christian history and heritage.” In 2008, when he was a pastor in Plano, TX, his church was involved in The Advent Conspiracy, an international movement that urges followers to “worship fully, spend less, give more and love all.”
Do you observe Advent? Why or why not? If you do, what are some of your traditions and practices?