Birth of A
Top Ten Ways
To Enjoy Christmas
Christmas Gift Giving
Christmas Stockings Tradition
Is Santa Real
Star of Bethlehem
Virgin Birth of Jesus
Celebrating Advent Tradition
Letter From God to His Children
Celebrating Advent Christmas Traditions
Because Christmas has become the most important holiday of all
in countries with large Christian populations, Advent has become a
preparation not just for the Christ child but also for everything else
that happens Christmas day. Most people spend all four weeks of Advent
(and then some!) buying or making gifts to give out for Christmas,
scheduling Christmas travel, and setting up the bounties of the big
Christmas meal. By the time it's over, we need a vacation from the holiday!
Everyone has their favorite holiday foods. Good bread puddings are made
in advance and left chilled to age so that the figs, raisins, and brandy
flavors meld. Gaelic custom is to bake cakes during the last weeks of
Advent, store them, then take them out just before Christmas to spread
on almond paste and/or an appropriately-sweet goodies such as frosting
or honey. On the days before Christmas, Europeans bake plaited breads in
a long oval shape, to look like a well-wrapped Christ child.
Quite possibly the most fun during Advent is found when caroling. Most
caroling today is done between Advent 2 and Advent 4, far enough away
from Christmas day so that people still have time for their Christmas
preparations but not so far away as to miss the feel of the season. The
songs are Christmas more than Advent, and include well-known hymns, many
popular-style songs and some quite 'secular' songs (it has been that way
from the start). Songing also involves cheery greetings, a lot of
walking, meeting strangers, camaraderie, and simple old-style dances.
It's a great way to get to know each other, learn your neighborhood, and
do a lot of blissful singing. Even bad singers can carol! Just remember
it's a no-grump zone. Somewhere at (or near) the end, the carolers often
receive 'a cup of cheer' -- hot liquid refreshment such as apple cider
with cinnamon, or hot cocoa (with whipped cream or marshmallows), or
warm eggnog (spiked with rum or whisky, and with vanilla, nutmeg, or
ginger), or most recently espresso cappuccino coffee (perhaps with light
spice). Usually there's finger-foods and cakes to go with it.
A common Advent tradition is that of the Advent wreath. The wreath is
made of evergreen branches with four candleholders and candles, and
usually hung by wire from the ceiling. Since in Advent we're waiting for
the Christ child, there needs to be a ceremonial way to mark the time
and make us aware of the wait. Lighting a candle reminds us of Christ as
light of the world. As the candle is lit, it's customary to sing two
verses of "O Come O Come Emmanuel". One candle is lit for each Sunday in
Advent : one on the first Sunday, two on the second, and so on. Some in
high-church circles frown on Advent wreaths in the sanctuary and
lighting ceremonies during worship. Where that happens, it can be a part
of how your household worships at home during the Advent season. The
kids can have lots of fun making the wreath, but for fire safety it's
best to let adults do the lighting, and to put the wreath in a secure
In many Latino countries, the days before Christmas are marked with the
posada, the journey of Mary and Joseph to find shelter in the days
before Jesus' birth. The people playing the roles go from house to
house, being turned away, until a house takes them in -- with a party
all set to start upon their arrival.
Another common tradition is that of decorating and blessing their
Christmas tree. Often the Sunday before Christmas (Advent 4) is set
aside for this task. Decorations include colored lights (which replace
an earlier era's candlesticks), balls (originally reflecting the
candlelight in a dazzling way), tinsel (resembling the glittering
icicles found on fir trees in colder lands), chrisoms (wooden or foam
symbols or monograms for Christ), and on top, a star.
The roots of the use of trees and decorations are definitely in Europe's
pre-Christian religions, but the symbols were transformed by the early
missionaries in order to express some aspect of Christ's life.
Sometimes, the meaning was much the same as the pagans treasured, but
drawn through Christ. In other cases, the old meaning was deliberately
turned inside-out to bring further honor to God and more cause for the
people to celebrate.
Advent is also when many families start making their own crèche or
manger scene. Francis of Assisi is said to have had a role in
popularizing this custom. In one interesting recent turn on the old
tradition, the scene is not made at once, but piece by piece, with each
family member responsible for adding a piece, one each day in front of
the rest of the family, telling the significance of each piece.
Everything but the Christ Child and manger are added in the first weeks
of Advent. Then the manger is added -- but with no baby, and no straw.
The baby needs a bed of straw, so the children are asked to do good
things for others. For each such deed, they would get a straw to add to
the manger. Hopefully, by Christmas eve, there would be a bed of straw
to lay the baby Jesus figurine into.
The Moravians created the Advent star, which symbolizes the star that
led the Wise Men to Jesus, who is "the bright and morning star"
(Revelation 22:16). This star first started in the 1850s near the
traditional Moravian home area of Herr hut.