We are heading full force into the holiday season which for me has always been one of the most wonderful times of the year, but for many it can also be the most stressful and dare I say depressing periods of the year due to the rampant stress and pressure to create an ideal holiday experience for loved ones not to mention the greed and materialism that is afoot. Historically speaking, the four weeks before Christmas were a time of fasting, prayerful contemplation and joyful waiting known as Advent which coming from the Latin Adventus being a direct translation from the Greek Parousia meaning “coming.” Advent is a time to focus on the spiritual meaning of Christmas and to practice the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. I find that keeping the spirit of Advent in our hearts and actively participating in some Advent traditions is the perfect antidote to the materialism and commercialism associated with the holidays in modern times and is the key to having a wonderful and blessed holiday season.
In Western Christianity, Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year and is a time of anticipation for the coming of Christmas. It is a time to focus not only on Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem but His coming into the hearts of the faithful and His glorious return at the end of time. In fact, during this liturgical season, the church readings are about the end of the world and preparation for the second coming. Advent is a time of sacrifice and penance in preparation for the great feast of Christmas. Church décor tends to be somber and no flowers and permitted during this season, except on the third Sunday of Advent known as “Gaudete Sunday” or “Joyous Sunday” a day on which the joy of the coming of Christmas is especially celebrated. The liturgical vestments of Advent are purple expect for Gaudete Sunday when rose colored vestments are used. An Advent wreath made of evergreen branches symbolizing eternal life and three purple candles and one pink candle representing the four Sundays of Advent are indispensable in any church. In Eastern Christianity, Advent starts earlier, on the 15th of November, and is a time of strict fasting during which the faithful abstain from all meat and dairy products. Fasting during Advent is an ancient practice that goes back to at least the 3rd century AD and still continues to be vigorously observed in the East whereas the emphasis tends to be placed on the joyful waiting for Christmas in the West.
Aside from the official church observance of Advent, several popular customs are practiced in various locations. Traditionally, in parts of northern Britain women would make two dolls representing Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary and go from house to house asking for alms. The tradition bears a striking resemblance to souling which was practiced around All Saints’ Day. The begging of alms before Christmas was practiced well into the early 20th century. In Normandy, during Advent there was a practice which involved young children under the age of 12 carrying torches over fields to bless them for the coming growing season. While these last two traditions seem to have disappeared into the past, it is still common in many parts of the world for people to keep Advent calendars in their homes and to open a new window on the calendar each day leading up to Christmas. Advent wreaths are also kept in many homes and families will often light a new candle each Sunday in anticipation of Christmas.
I hope you have enjoyed this post on the Advent season and if you feel bogged down by the fast pace and materialism of the holidays season, I urge you to take a few moments to focus on the chartable and spiritual values which are the central focus of advent. As always I thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and I wish you peace, happiness and abundant blessings!