Christmas is just around the corner; decorations and seasonal merchandise are everywhere. I love looking at all the decorations and wandering through stores in search of that perfect addition to my Christmas collection. I recognise the ridiculous irrelevance of snowy scenes and warmly clad woodland creatures featured in so many decorations when I celebrate Christmas in the sun with kangaroos nearby, but that doesn’t stop me buying them. I like to add an item or two each year and am always on the lookout for a new idea to decorate my Christmas table and recipes to delight my family on Christmas Day.
Grown up Advent calendars for this year have been purchased and I eagerly await December 1st , so I can finally open the first little window and discover the surprise inside mine. You see, I’ve grown to love Advent calendars. I can’t do the chocolate ones; I simply open all the windows at once and gobble the treats. Luckily for me, they are now available with a wide variety of non-edible treats hidden behind the little (or not so little) doors to suit all ages, tastes and budgets. My kids, now grown, still get Advent Calendars each year. This year, they are getting a brick one, with tiny Christmas decorations to make from blocks and a tea light candle one, both budget friendly and purchased from
Kmart. My husband has a Wine Gallery Twelve Wines of Christmas Advent Calendar containing 12 bottles of wine and some bonus treats. (Of course, I’ll have to help him drink these and it will take somewhat more than 12 days.) I’ve treated myself to a T2tea Advent Calendar this year, with a tea for each December morning and the chance to find a ‘golden ticket’ and win a year’s worth of tea. The gorgeous packaging and intertextual reference was enough to hook me in on that one, so it’s just as well I love their tea too. (See what I did there?) My Instagram feed has been full of Advent Calendar options for grown-ups after clicking on a single Advent-related post weeks ago. You can, it appears, get an Advent Calendar full of whatever you love, whatever your age.
When was Advent originally celebrated?
It is highly unlikely Jesus was born in December. After all, that is winter in the Holy Land and shepherds would not have ‘watched their flocks by night’ unless they wanted to die of frostbite and lose all their livestock into the bargain.
Christian churches started to celebrate Christmas on a set date during the Winter Solstice, the darkest and coldest time of the year in the reign of Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, in AD336. The celebration of Jesus’ birth, ‘the coming of the light’ made sense at this bleak time. Advent was eventually used as a lead up to Christmas, a preparation for and looking forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in much the same way as Lent was used to prepare for Easter.
The first mention of Advent practices is in AD380, when European Christians were encouraged to attend church daily from December 17th to 29th.
During the Fourth and Fifth Centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was used as a season of preparation for new Christians leading up to baptisms held during the January feast of Epiphany. (Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus, his baptism and first miracle.) This version of Advent involved penance, prayer and fasting.
During the Sixth Century, Advent was linked to Christ’s awaited second coming, as judge of the world and was not linked to Jesus’ first coming as a baby until the Middle Ages.
In England during Medieval times, an Advent Image – a box containing dolls representing Mary and Joseph, was carried from door to door during December. It was considered bad luck if you hadn’t been visited by the box before Christmas.
Why is Advent celebrated?
The word advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming’ and the word advent in English means the arrival of a notable person or thing. Advent is used to refer to both the first coming of Christ as a human baby and his anticipated second coming as ruler and judge; it can also refer to the welcoming of Jesus into individual lives in a conversion experience. Traditionally, the first half of Advent focuses on the second coming of Christ, whilst the second half focuses on the arrival of baby Jesus. It is a time to consider our place between the two events in remembrance and anticipation, celebrated by some Christians over four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
How is Advent celebrated?
Many churches display Advent candles – one for each Sunday of Advent, representing Old Testament Bible prophets who prophesied about Jesus, the coming of Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, John the Baptist who told Israel to get ready for Jesus’ teaching and a
final candle for Jesus, ‘the light of the world’. The Advent Wreath is another symbol, “created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and eternal life He makes possible. Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath. Additional decorations, like holly and berries, are sometimes added. Their red color points ahead to Jesus’ sacrifice and death. Pinecones can symbolize the new life that Jesus brings through His resurrection.”*
What about Advent Calendars?
Advent calendars, as we know them, contain either 24 or 25 doors, windows, pouches or boxes to be opened one at a time, each day in the lead up to Christmas, beginning December 1st. Seventeenth Century Scandinavian Lutheran churches used 24 small Advent Candles, one lit daily, counting down to Christmas. Nineteenth Century German Protestants placed 24 chalk marks on doorways, rubbing off one daily from December 1st. Some European cultures used tiny bags attached to an evergreen wreath with small gifts for each day in the lead up to Christmas, linking back to the Advent Wreaths in
churches. Homemade Advent Calendars appeared around the 1850s, with commercial card Advent calendars available in Germany from the early 1900s. Originally, each window hid a scene associated with the Nativity or Christmas decorations and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the addition of chocolate was made. This took a while to catch on, with chocolate Advent calendars gaining popularity in the 1980s. Gradually, popular culture figures began to feature and now most Advent Calendars have no religious imagery at all.
In recent years, Advent calendars have been adopted as a marketing tool, much like a show bag and you can now get one to suit almost every taste, age and budget. Toys, edible treats, alcohol, cosmetics, candles, jewellery and more can now be found behind the doors and windows of Advent Calendars. The world’s biggest Advent Calendar was “71 m high and 23 m wide and was built at St Pancras station, London, UK, to commemorate the station’s refurbishment in December 2007” whilst the world’s most expensive Advent Calendar, created in 2010 by Octagon Blue GCV at a price of 1.7million British pounds, contained diamonds and gold.
Whether you celebrate Advent as a time to ponder upon the Advent of Jesus or just to eat chocolate and enjoy daily gifts, it has a role to play in Christmas celebrations around the world today.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the brands mentioned above. They are simply products I have liked and purchased.
References and further reading:
*Christianity.com – What is Advent?
The Gospel Coalition – The history of Advent https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ryan-reeves/the-history-of-advent/
Why Christmas? .com – The Tradition of Advent
The Telegraph – In Pictures: 20 World Records with a Christmas Theme
Daily Mail Australia – World’s Most Expensive Advent Calendar