The Christmas Tradition of Advent
By Steve Roark
My church celebrated the beginning of Advent December 1st by carrying out the “hanging of the green” tradition of decorating the church sanctuary for the Christmas season. Our pastor explained the meaning of the Advent tradition, which was good because while I had heard of it, I didn’t really know what it about. I’m all about old traditions, and so it sparked my own research on the subject, which I thought I would share.
It’s unclear when the tradition of Advent started. Some think it began in 586 A.D. when some Monks began fasting during the month of December to help them concentrate on preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth. Over time this eventually transformed into traditions that focus attention on Christ during the Christmas season and the importance of His coming to Earth. The term Advent means “The Coming” in Latin, and it spans the four Sundays and weeks prior to Christmas.
Some traditions of Advent still practiced today include the Hanging of the Green, which has been around for centuries. It’s done on the first Sunday of Advent and use to involve decorating the church with sprays, garlands, wreaths and trees from evergreen trees such as pine, fir, and holly. Now about everything is from the plastic species. Using greenery for indoor Christmas decorating got its start from German priest Martin Luther in the early 1500s. He felt it helped people appreciate God’s creation and the use of evergreen plants as symbols of the unchanging nature of God and the everlasting life that Christians receive through Jesus Christ.
Another tradition is the Advent Wreath, which is a table display involving an evergreen wreath and candles, and there is a lot of symbolism here. The circle of the wreath is a reminder of God, who has no beginning or end. The green speaks of the hope and renewal of eternal life, and the candles symbolize Christ as the light of the world. Normally there are five candles, each lit on one of the four Sundays of Advent, with the fifth one lit on Christmas Eve.
Christmas trees are commonly used for decorating churches, but there is also a tradition of setting up a Chrismon tree, which is an evergreen tree decorated with only white lights and “chrismons”: ancient symbols of Christ’s ministry. Things like a dove, fish, Shepard’s crook, chalice, Christian cross, Celtic Cross, Jerusalem cross, and others. The purpose of this tree is to direct attention to the nature and ultimate work of Christ.
Christmas is deeply steeped in traditions, and I find great joy in learning about them and especially carrying them on. I hope you have your own and enjoy them this Christmas season. Just don’t forget who it is about.