December is upon us, and with that comes the old religious tradition of Christmas. But before Christmas –a time of gift giving, celebration, and joy—there is the waiting period. This time of pause and expectation is known as Advent, and it symbolizes the anticipation of something new, something notable. Advent itself means “arrival” and it is generally celebrated in the month leading up to Christmas as a time of reflection on the Christian belief of both the birth of Jesus and His second coming – and yes, occasionally Santa will make an appearance!
Advent itself however is celebrated in many different ways across the globe and, sometimes, isn’t really recognized at all. Certain church groups, such as the Greek Orthodox, will proceed with fasting during this period (a common theme found in Lent) however in the West it is celebrated largely through other symbols.
The symbols generally associated with Advent include the lighting of candles within a wreath on consecutive Sabbath days as a sort of countdown; these candles can mean a variety of things from certain figures in the bible, to feelings associated with Christmas such as joy or hope –colors can vary as well. The wreath itself also has variants, as can be seen in the Danish method of using circular bread as the wreath and a special candle with marks that should be reached when lit down to Christmas day.
Another prominent aspect is the advent calendar. The idea of marking off the days until Christmas was long celebrated, but turning it into a calendar to encourage both excitement and expectancy came into play in the 19th century, with legend attributing it to either a mother’s gift to her son or a bookshop sparking the mass-use of the method.
Here are a few interesting ways people celebrate the time of Advent:
“Knocking Nights”: A German tradition where children will go from door to door requesting candy and gifts on certain days leading up to Christmas.
“Las Posadas”: In Mexico, large celebrations and parades will be held before Christmas with children dressing-up as Mary and Joseph from the bible. They’ll travel door-to-door looking for a “room at the inn.”
“Misa de Gallo”: The Philippines has a nine-day celebration of Mass leading up to Christmas – these Masses are both long and can start very early (4 in the morning!), but are also followed by delicious food outside of the churches.
“Parrandas”: Caroling at its finest, friends in Puerto Rico will surprise someone at their house to begin the singing, generally after everyone has gone to bed. They then proceed as a group to go to more houses and the group of singers grows – at the end there’s often food, as there always should be. Click here to see Parrandas in action.
“The Spider and the Christmas Tree”: Ukraine continues a traditional story of a poor widow who could not afford to decorate her tree in preparation for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, spiders decorated it for her with webs, and now people in Ukraine use web ornaments to remember widow’s thankfulness.