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Advent Traditions

The Meaning of Advent

Advent means "the coming of the Savior". It is the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas day. It refers to the four weeks before Christmas.  It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas which is oftentimes the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It is a time of hope and anticipation of the coming of Christ.

Advent Wreath

Balsam Advent WreathThe four sundays of advent are often celebrated with four candles on an Advent Wreath, with one to be lit each Sunday. The first, second and fourth candles are traditionally purple, but the third candle is rose-colored. A fifth white candle is often lit on Christmas day in the center of the Advent wreath.

Advent Calendar

Many people view Advent as the month of December leading up to Christmas day. A popular way to mark the days of advent, particularly among children, is an Advent Calendar. These calendars can carry religious messages, little chocolate shapes, seasonal pictures or anything of unique interest to people. They have a door for each day of Advent which is opened to discover what's inside.

The Meaning of Evergreens

The meaning of using evergreen branches, holly sprigs and mistletoe is their beauty in winter when most things seem to be dying on us. When the days are short and darkness seems to overcome us the greenery reminds us that life continues.

Nativity Scenes

Nativity scenes are very popular additions to any household in the advent season.  They depict the birth and birthplace of Jesus. Christian nativity scenes normally show Jesus in a manger, Joseph and Mary in a barn or stable, any structure that accommodates farm animals. A mule and an ox usually accompany them. The scene also includes the Magi (Three Wise Men), shepherds, angels and the Star of Bethlehem. The traditional scenes that show the shepherds and Magi together are not true to the Bible story. The Magi arrived later.
 
At Christmas time the nativity scenes or crèche(meaning crib or manger in French) are created and displayed in homes, churches, parks and with real, live people and animals for advent nativity celebrations.
 
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making the crèche (nativity) tradition popular. In a Christmas Eve service in 1223, he staged a simple reenactment of Jesus" birth, focusing on the manger. He made the nativity come alive. The idea caught on and manger scenes became more elaborate and took on more cultural characteristics from Italy to France, Germany and Spain. Today, almost every culture in the world has their unique representation of the nativity scene.
 
A typical French Noel crèche consists of figures called Santons. These figures originally made of wood, wax or clay come in their work clothes to visit the Holy Family. They bring the Christ Child presents they have made or grown, hunted or sold. They perform or offer simple gestures of thoughtfulness. They were a way of bringing religion home after the French Revolution of 1789. Churches were being sacked and closed. Christmas midnight mass and outdoor nativity scenes were banned. This forced people to set up crèches in their own homes. The displays became more elaborate over time with the whole Provencal village being recreated. Typical characters of day-to-day life: the fishmonger, baker, flower peddler, vegetable merchant and cheesmonger, the mayor, priest, nun, midwife with her cradle, the fisherman with his nets and the shepherd with his cape and walking cane are depicted. The scenery is often developed to include trees, rivers, hills, the whole village scene with the focal point being the nativity crèche.
 
Advent festivities in Italy include bagpipers or zampognari who play old hill tunes in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. These bagpipers are popular in Italian nativity scenes. The Italains traditionally view the many elaborate manger scenes on Christmas Eve. Artisans create detailed landscapes around the manger scenes: small trees, lakes, rivers, grottoes, hanging angels and local heroes. The most elaborate and beautiful nativity scenes are set up in Churches.

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