The Christmas season seems to begin a little earlier each year. Stores decorate and start their sales around Halloween. Lights go up on houses well before Thanksgiving, while Christmas cards show up in mailboxes by Black Friday. The longer the season though, the more abrupt the conclusion. Be honest; who among us sings Christmas carols (or watches Hallmark movies) on December 26th? Not many. We worry and scurry for weeks about a single day – then suddenly it’s over. Here’s a better approach. Let’s focus instead on the one, true Christmas season preceding the day. Let’s focus on Advent.
For most Christians, Advent refers to the twenty-four days before Christmas (not to be confused with the song-famous Twelve Days, which come after Christmas). Advent begins four Sundays before December 25th. The word literally means “coming”, as in the (first coming) birth of Jesus at Christmas, and the (second coming) reappearance of Jesus at the end of time. If you’re looking for the season’s theme song, go with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. It’s the one, true Advent carol.
Once upon a time Advent included fasting, penance, and daily prayer, but today the season seems to be nothing more than a countdown. Even in Sunday church services, the four candles of the Advent wreath are lit as the four Sundays pass by – a weekly countdown to the Christmas candle in the center. Here’s a more efficient idea. Let’s add another ball in Times Square; one that takes twenty-four days to drop instead of sixty seconds. Might save a lot of wreaths and calendars.
Speaking of calendars, maybe a countdown is enough to signify a season. Advent calendars are all the rage these days. I had one when I was a kid; the flat, cardboard kind with twenty-four numbered doors of varying shapes and sizes. Oddly, the doors were never arranged numerically, as if the calendar was made more appealing by having to search for a given day. Not so oddly, each door fronted a bit of chocolate. As if waiting twenty-four days for Christmas wasn’t hard enough, Advent calendars forced a kid to wait twenty-four hours to “open” each piece of chocolate. A test of patience.
If cardboard and chocolate don’t catch your attention, perhaps you’d prefer a more elaborate version of an Advent calendar. Consider Fran’s Chocolates of Seattle (above left), which produces its annual calendar fronted by an original watercolor. Add in twenty-four delectable chocolates in twenty-four drawers, and this calendar sets you back $175. Or how about Liberty London’s “Beauty Advent Calendar” (above right), which includes twenty-four wellness products – many of them full-size – like probiotic deodorant, essential oil candles, and skin bronzer? This one sets you back $275, with the price justification you can re-gift whatever items are not to your taste.
Lest you think a fancy (or not) calendar is the only way to acknowledge Advent, I can’t close without mentioning the Christingle. I don’t remember creating one of these as a kid. A Christingle is made up of an orange, a candle, a bit of red ribbon, and four sets of dried fruits or sweets, skewered on cocktail sticks. It’s a strange-looking assembly, but the Christingle gets an “A” for symbolism. The orange represents the world. The candle represents Jesus as the light of the world. The red ribbon represents God’s love (or Jesus’ blood). The fruits/sweets represent the gifts God gives us, and the cocktails sticks represent the four corners of the globe. Lots going on in one sort-of-neat package.
If you’re reading this post before December 1st, you have the entire twenty-four days of Advent ahead of you. Twenty-four days to slow down and appreciate the meaning of day twenty-five. Sounds more like a season than a single day, doesn’t it? Mark your calendar then. Advent is here.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.