SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2: Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! Roll out the purple carpet and prepare the wreaths, because Advent begins today for more than 1 billion Western Christians. From the Latin word for “coming,” Advent marks two significant events for its adherents: the (past) coming of Jesus as the Messiah; and the (future) coming of Jesus as the Judge. (Wikipedia has details.)
Christian leaders recommend trying to balance this often-stressful time of the year between holiday preparations at home—and remembering the larger needs of the world. This year, consider: shop for gifts, but buy for the needy, too; clean the home, but donate some of that clutter to those who have less; and decorate the halls, but also “decorate” a place in the heart for Jesus. (Get more tips from Catholic Culture.) We are making a distinction here in describing “Western” customs marked by Catholics, Protestants and Anglicans. Most Eastern Orthodox Churches began their annual Nativity Fast earlier.
Kids can find a deeper meaning in the season, too, by creating an Advent Chain of thin papers—each link means one less day until Christmas, but each is also marked with a good deed that must be performed that day. (Check out more Advent calendar ideas from Martha Stewart.)
COLORS OF ADVENT? VIOLET OR RED/WHITE … OR BLUE?
Violet is most commonly associated with the pre-Christmas season in Western Churches, while white and red are found in many Eastern Churches. The Liturgical Colors have evolved through Christian history and Wikipedia has developed an intriguing set of color charts to show the variances.
However, blue is showing up as a symbol of Christian hope in many churches. It appears to be a trend—rising in popularity to such an extent that the mainline United Methodist church, to cite one example, posted a rationale for switching to blue on its international website. The post says, in part: Advent is a season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Since this anticipation is characterized by hope … the color for the season should not be purple, with its mood of solemnity and somberness, but blue with its hopefulness. No, United Methodists are not required to switch to blue—but some congregations are shifting already, the post explains.
PREPARING AN ADVENT WREATH?
The Advent Wreath may have originated long before Christianity or as recently as the 19th century. Historians continue to debate the tradition’s roots. Customs for the design and the wreath blessings vary by denomination, to this day.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), speaking on behalf of the 1 in 4 Americans who are Catholic, recommends four candles. The USCCB webpage on the Advent Wreath says, in part: Traditionally, Advent wreaths are constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which four candles are inserted, representing the four weeks of Advent. Ideally, three candles are purple and one is rose, but white candles can also be used. The USCCB page links to a suggested blessing familiies can use.
However, wreath traditions do vary and, for example, the United Methodist website describes other options and themes for reflection. For a more extensive history of wreath customs—and more ideas about the design—check out the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s webpage addressing: What Is an Advent Wreath?
Here’s a fun suggestion for your congregation: Host an Advent Wreath-making workshop for all ages. That way, someone buys greenery and candles in bulk and everyone shares in starting this home-based tradition. The Presbyterian Church USA provides a helpful, full-color PDF of constructing a simple Advent Wreath that you can download for free and share with friends.
ONE LAST CLARIFICATION: The Western Christian calendar also commences on Advent Sunday, thus marking both a new season and a new year. (However, the Eastern Christian year began on Sept. 1.)