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Celebrating Advent Continues Through Christmas Eve

Monday 25 December 2017 at 8:55 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger was first published in IMAGES for December 21, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Here it is almost Christmas, and some folks have been celebrating Christmas since Halloween! What bothers me about that is they give Thanksgiving a mere lick and a promise, and they skip over Advent entirely. To the Early Church (after the time of St. Paul, Barnabas, etc.), and still to Lutherans, Advent is an important pre-Christmas observance, filled with a significance that gives Christmas special meaning. “Advent” means “to come,” and the one who is coming is Jesus Christ, who is coming into the world as the Christ Child. It also includes observing the fact that He will come again.

            During the time of St. Paul and the other Apostles, Christmas was not an observable festival, so Advent wasn’t either. But the Early Church which followed did celebrate Christmas and Advent, but I’m afraid, in a much more meaningful way than we do today. The Church has always considered Easter to be more important than Christmas, but you can’t have Easter without having Christmas.

            We have just celebrated the Third Sunday in Advent, and in a few days we will celebrate the Fourth and Last Sunday in Advent, which, this year, happens to be Christmas Eve. It doesn’t always fall this way. When you skip Advent by fast-forwarding to Christmas, you miss out on some of the wonderful traditions of the Early Church, which are filled with meaning, -- such as singing the many beautiful Advent hymns and a weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath. My favorite Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” was sung Sunday morning on the Lutheran television program for shut-ins. I was glad not to miss out on hearing and singing that magnificent song.

            There are many traditions regarding the Advent Wreath. Our tradition involves lighting three purple candles and one pink candle on the wreath, and the white Christ Candle in the center. The first candle, which is purple, symbolizes Hope; the second candle, also purple, symbolizes Peace; the third is pink, and is a symbol of joy; and the fourth is purple, symbolizing love. Lighting the Christ Candle on Christmas Day symbolizes Christ coming into the world.

            The wreath of evergreen leaves itself is symbolic, the circle standing for Eternity, the various evergreens suggesting life, the prickly leaves of the holly reminding us of the crown of thorns, with the red berries suggesting the blood of Christ.

            In contrast to us, the candles are usually red in Denmark, Austria, Germany and other European countries. In Germany today, families place a pine or fir wreath on a large plate, put four candles on the wreath, and decorate the wreath with small objects, such as toys, ribbons, etc. The center of the wreath is filled with fruit, nuts, and candy. Every week, on the first day a candle is lighted, and the children are allowed to take a piece of the fruit, candy and nuts. The wreath is called the “Adventkranz” in Germany and Austria.

            Advent wreaths in Austria, Denmark, and Sweden are usually suspended from the ceiling by red ribbons. Instead of candy and nuts in the center, as in Germany, there is a white Christ Candle, similar to ours. As they light the wreath each time, the family sings Advent songs and offers Advent prayers. There is always the danger of fire, so the lighting of the wreath is always supervised by an adult.

            Spain was the last of the European Christian countries to observe the tradition of lighting an Advent wreath, and they followed the Austrian and Danish traditions.

            Many churches in America observe the Advent wreath tradition today, including ours. And families often have their wreath ceremony at home as well. My wife and I tend to forget to light the candles on a regular basis throughout Advent, so some years we end up lighting them all on the last day.

            Enjoy the last few days of Advent, and have a very Blessed and joyful Christmas!


Ray Spitzenberger is a free-lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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