The Chrismas Archives


Advent is the weeks leading up to Christmas. In times past, when church traditions and observances were more popularly followed, it was a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. A time when people were encouraged to abstain from meat, live a little less generously, fast on Fridays, as a cleansing process for the body and soul before the often, excesses of the Christmas celebration! In fact, despite its religious element, and the little acts of self denial which most people observed, it was a jolly time!

Secular Traditions which regrew up on support of this season emulate the passing of the weeks of Advent. The Advent wreaths were popular. a wreath with four candles, three purple for the three Sundays of Abstinence, and one Pink, for Gaudete Sunday, which was a day of joyous relaxation on the third Sunday of Advent. Each Sunday, one of the candles was lit, until on the fourth Sunday all four were lit. At first these were simple wreaths which were either hung with ribbons from the ceiling, and made from evergreens woven around a wooden hoop of flexible wood. Then they became table wreaths, put onto the dinner table. They became decorated with gilded nuts and apples, ribbons or anything available.

While these have been around for centuries, the other Advent speciality is the Advent Calendar, which has a history going back only into the latter years of the 19th century.

The first Advent Calendar was published in Germany in 1903 and depicted the Christchild's Garden. Each 'door' opened to reveal a religious text. By the 1930's there were many pretty designs, from a Christmas Tree with slot on angels, to a diorama with animals and elves. All German. In the 1950's, Hamish Hamilton published the first british Advent Calenders. the first was a scene of Noah's Ark, with a story by the popular author of the Lord Peter Wimsy detective stories, Dorothy L Sayers.

Advent Calendars have continued in popularity more so than the wreaths, and have become a source of memorabilia for collectors of Christmas ephemera. The old ones so scarce, that publishers in Germany are reproducing them for collectors.

Advent culminates with the Christmas Triduum, which is a service of psalms and hymns. The Psalms all begin with a title for Jesus - O Wisdom,, O Star of David, O Rod of Jesse. Because of this they have become commonly known as 'The Great O's'. The well loved Carol, 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' is based on the Great O's.