Advent & Celtic Advent:
Advent History, Advent Wreath, Advent Calendar
By Monk Preston (Co-Founder and President, The Prayer Foundation)
(At Left) A "Celtic-style" Advent Wreath with traditionally colored candles. Lutherans and many other Protestants now use Blue candles (we have changed the candles in ours to three Dark Green and one Light Green).
A Short Advent Film:
View a 5 Min. Film: Advent Liturgy (it is located on another website).
Note: The carol "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", (heard in the above short Film), belongs to the Advent Season since it celebrates the expectation of Christ's coming rather than His actual birth.
For Roman Catholics and many Protestants: Advent is the time period covering the four Sundays before Christmas (and the days in-between them). The beginning of Western Advent can therefore fall any time between November 27th and December 3rd.
Celtic Advent is always Nov. 15-Dec. 24 (Observance begins at Sunset on Nov. 14). The Dates are the same for Eastern Orthodox Advent (Nativity Fast).
For those Christians that observe the Church Seasons, Advent is the Church Season just before Christmas. In what is referred to as the Western Church (Roman Catholics and Protestants, including Anglicans) observance of Advent Season occurs during the period of the four Sundays before Christmas. The beginning of Western Advent can therefore fall any time between November 27th and December 3rd.
Advent ends on December 24th at sundown, the beginning of Christmas Eve (for Roman Catholics, when December 24 falls on a Sunday, as it did in 2006, the Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Church still applies, and it is treated as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the Vigil of Christmas begins at Evening Prayer I, later that day).
Our English word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means arrival. In the Latin Vulgate of Jerome, this was the word used to translate the Greek word parousia, which in the New Testament refers to the Second Coming of Christ.
So in Advent season we reflect on the two advents, or arrivals of Christ. The Nativity, the birth of Christ, the coming of the Christmas celebration. And also on the Second Coming of Christ, for which, since we do not know when it will be (or the time of the end of our own lives), we should always be ready.
Advent has historically been a time for reflection and prayer.
Christ, the Messiah, will be born in Bethlehem, he will save us from our sins. On Christmas day we will celebrate His Nativity, his birth, His First Coming. Christ will come again, to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. Let us use this time of preparation for the celebration of His First Coming to especially prepare our hearts and lives for His Second Coming.
From its origin in the 4th century and on, it was also a time of fasting. The fasting portion was first dropped by the Protestant Churches, and then by the Roman Catholic Church, but is still observed in the Eastern Orthodox Communions.
Celtic Advent / Advent in the Early (Ante-Nicene) Church
During the time of ancient Celtic Christianity, the entire Church, both Western (including the Celtic Christians), and Eastern (the Orthodox Communions, Oriental Churches, and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics) all celebrated a longer Advent Season as a lesser Lenten fast.
It began on the same date every year on November 15th (Orthodox Churches still observe it as beginning on this day). In the early Church (and going back also through the Old Testament era) and still currently in Orthodox and Roman Catholic practice, every day (liturgical day) officially begins at sundown of the previous date (in this case, sundown on the 14th begins the liturgical observance of the 15th of November).
Observance of Advent appears to have taken place since the 4th Century (300's A.D.) Like Lent, it originally was a season when new Christians studied in preparation for being baptized. In the early Middle Ages Advent was the Season of preparing oneself for the Second Coming of Christ. It was a season of repentance and dedication to prayer.
Advent seems to have been a result of the observance of the Celtic monks in Gaul, which was taken and combined with a similar three to six-week period of fasting that had been observed in the city of Rome before Christmas (remember, France was still known by the Roman name of "Gaul" in this era, and was still a Celtic country at this time--this was even before St. Patrick converted Ireland---and there were as yet no Irish Celtic monks!).
The Gallic fast (in modern-day northern France) began at sundown after the celebration of the Feast Day (Nov. 11th) of Martin of Tours, a Roman Cavalry officer who became a Christian and founded the first monastery in Gaul (modern-day France).
Combining the Gallic and Roman Fasts (with its later adoption by the Eastern Sees) resulted in Advent being observed universally among Christians from Nov. 15th until sundown when Christmas Eve begins. Advent began (and still so begins in the eastern Church) on sundown of the Feast Day of the Apostle Philip (Nov. 14th)---this is why Eastern Orthodox sometimes refer to the Advent Season as "St. Philip's Fast", or even "the Philippian Fast").
It was celebrated in common first by Celtic Christians and by Rome, and later adopted by the Eastern Christians (the Bishop of Rome and the Orthodox Bishops and Patriarchs had not yet separated into two different Communions---the Great Schism would not take place until many centuries later, in 1054).
We here at The Prayer Foundation ™, in common with some other individual Protestants (and some individual Roman Catholics, as well) have decided to observe the longer "Celtic Advent" Season. We do not, of course, require this observance of anyone else.
With the secular world beginning their secular celebration of "secular Christmas" earlier and earlier (we noticed Christmas lights already on sale this year in some stores two weeks before Halloween), celebrating "Celtic Advent" is a way of extending a more spiritual observance of the true "Holy-day" season. A way of "putting Christ back into Christmas" for an additional two more weeks.
We are dedicating the "extra" two weeks of the ancient Advent observance to the original emphasis of preparation in repentance and prayer in celebration of Christ's Second Coming, and will continue with the following four weeks emphasizing preparation for the celebration of Christ's First Coming, His birth in Bethlehem.
If one is fasting, as we will be, remember that in the Celtic tradition, Sundays (The Lord's Day) are exempt, as are Feast Days, and in the U.S., the wonderful "Feast Day" of the Holiday of Thanksgiving (to God) is observed during Celtic Advent (see additional comments regarding fasting in the column to the right).
Our celebration of the entire Advent Season, observing it in honor of, and in worship of our Lord, will stand as a testimony to Christ and His love. The Season of Advent itself stands with the true Christmas Season over and against the secular "X-mas" season. The secular holiday is devoted to the celebration and observance of materialism and consumerism. It observes its annual "advent" of "Santa Claus". Not, of course, the real Christian St. Nicholas, but a badly caricatured counterfeit of him. The secular holiday is often accompanied by a total rejection of Christ.
It is a joyless time of extreme loneliness and striving for many poor souls without hope in this world or the next; those without the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ. A time when suicides increase dramatically. How important it is then to manifest the Lord in our daily lives, and to introduce Him to those who do not yet know Him! ________________________________________________
Eastern Orthodox Advent (Also known as: The Nativity Fast, Winter Fast, Christmas Lent, St. Philip's Fast)
"The 40 days prior to Christmas from November 15...are known as Advent. For these 40 days, Orthodox Christians fast in spiritual preparation for the Feast. This fast is known as either the Christmas Fast or as St. Philip’s Fast, starting as it does the day after St Philip’s Day (14...November)...
...During any fasting period, Orthodox Christians try to pray more...Fasting is a kind of ‘time-out’ and it helps us to cleanse ourselves, and it helps us to pray and not being weighed down with heavy, rich food, we are more easily able to examine ourselves and our lives, thus it is very important in the spiritual preparation for Christmas..."
(-From "Orthodox Christmas" by George Hawkins, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church). ________________________________________________
Western Church (Roman Catholic & Protestant) Advent
Western Advent (Roman Catholic and Protestant) began in the tenth century when Pope Gregory I ("The Great") shortened the length of the Fast (and therefore observance of the Advent Season) to the first four Sundays before Christmas. He also declared the Advent Season to begin the Church Year (Eastern Orthodox begin the Church year on September 1st). Later, when Church Season colors were adopted, Advent received a purple color like Lent.
When the Protestant Reformation occurred, Protestants retained the Roman Catholic dates, but rejected the fasting part. Later, the Roman Catholic Church rejected the fasting portion, also. Eastern Orthodox still retain the same dates of observance as those practiced by the early Celtic Christians and also by Roman Catholics before the changes of Pope Gregory I.
Lutherans have changed the color of Advent (and of the Advent candles) to blue and many other Protestant Churches have also adopted these changes. Others have retained the blue-purple color for Advent but changed to a red-purple color for Lent, to differentiate the two.
Advent Season was mostly forgotten as far as observance goes in the nineteenth century (as Epiphany still is), but the latter half of the twentieth century has seen a resurgence of interest, as emphasis has been placed on preparation for the coming Christmas Nativity celebration, rather than on the Second Coming of Christ, as was historically done.
celebration, by emphasizing preparation for the Nativity, has
made Advent more of a family-oriented Church Season, and
especially more "child-friendly". Use of some of
the current observances of Advent, like the Advent Wreath
and the Advent Calendar (see below for more information on
both), can also be of great benefit in this regard.
The Advent Wreath
Your Church may well have an Advent Wreath already in the sanctuary, but you will want one in your own home, too.
Use of the Advent Wreath, originally a German Lutheran practice, spread first to Scandinavia, and now throughout much of Protestantism, and has also been adopted by the Roman Catholic Church.
The historic candle colors, three purple and one rose (pink), with an optional white central "Christ candle" were first replaced in most Lutheran Churches by blue candles, and this color change has now spread to many other Protestant Denominations as well.
We here at The Prayer Foundation ™ just happen to have the exact same Celtic "wreath" candle-holder that is shown in the picture at the very top of this page, but we have seen at least two other different Celtic types that we like just as well---just do an Internet search under: "Celtic Advent Wreath".
Yes, traditionally they are made with evergreen boughs, but we just add some cut evergreen boughs to ours. And no, we don't place it in our monastery Chapel (it certainly could be placed there) but on the kitchen counter/table where we usually take our meals. It just seems more "family" there.
In 2005 we changed our candles' colors to three dark (forest) green and one light green, which we thought to be more in keeping with both our Celtic wreath and our Celtic monastic esthetics. Our central "Christ candle" (not shown in the photo, and also not to be lit until Christmas Eve) is a thicker candle and "white". We use natural beeswax candles for all of the candles in our monastery Chapel, so it is actually more of an "ivory" or even a light tan: a natural "bee-white" (Note: Gold or Ivory have historically been acceptable alternatives for White, whenever White is called for).
The Advent Calendar
A Different Calendar for Every Age Group:
A typical Advent Calendar is a sort of glossy-cover cardboard affair with 24 little doors, one of which is opened each day from the first day of December until Christmas Eve. The little "window" may show something to do with the Nativity Story and birth of Jesus, or just something Christmas-related: holly, bells, (and yes, there are also "secular" Advent Calendars---no thanks!) so you can do an Internet search for "religious advent Calendar" or visit your local Christian bookstore.
It is a nice family event, especially for children, as it provides an interesting sort of month-long "countdown" to Christmas and the celebration of our Lord's birth, which is what much of the Advent Season itself has become for today's Christians.
They come aimed at all different ages, so you can get one just the right age level for your kids, whatever their current ages. Or if you're like us, all adults (up to age 82!) in your household, with no children around, you can get one like that shown in the photo above---not only is it Bible and Nativity based, but on the back of each little door is a Scripture for the day (only some of the Advent Calendars have this extra blessing)!
As far back as the early 1800's, German families might do the "countdown" of the Advent Season by marking a door or wall daily with a chalk line, or light 24 candles, one more each day. Some families would also hang 24 little religious pictures on a wall.
Use of today's Advent Calendars is of fairly recent practice, appearing first in a Protestant area of Germany around 1851, with the first known hand-made Advent Calendar, but being almost immediately adopted by Roman Catholics, also.
Other types are ones with chocolates (first seen in 1958), or larger Christmas tree boards with 24 little presents hanging on them, one to be opened each day. In Scandinavian countries, entire buildings are sometimes used as "Advent Calendars", with a different actual lighted window showing something each evening.
The first printed Advent Calendar is said to have been published by a Swabian (German), Gerhard Lang in 1908. It is certain that he published the first one with little windows/doors that opened, in the early part of the 20th century.
Photo of lone monk, and Layout, Copyright © 2007 S.G.P. All rights reserved.
Photo of Skellig Michael Copyright © Irish Tourist Board.
If you are also observing Advent as a "Lesser Lenten" Fast:
If you count the days from November 15th to Dec. 24th, you will find that the total number of days during the entire Season is forty.
Both are what are called "partial fasts" where you are giving up a particular type or types of food---you are still eating something!
In the Orthodox Communions, small children, the elderly, those who are sick, pregnant women, (and anyone else who needs to be) are always automatically exempt from fasting (it is always a good idea to consult one's physician with any concerns.)
Also, all their Fasts are celebrated as seasons of joy rather than of hardship and privation and, well, gloom, as was sometimes done in the West, particularly during the Middle Ages.
As our Lord taught us: "But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father, which is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you openly." -Matthew 6:17,18.
Ancient Celtic Christians did not fast on The Lord's Day (Sunday).
Every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, and is therefore considered to be a "Feast Day".
The Eastern Orthodox observe this also, but have an additional practice of not fasting on Saturdays (the Sabbath).
They also tend to have more Feast Days than modern Protestants! (American calendars will list Thanksgiving, of course and often St. Andrew's Day---Nov. 30th---a day observed by Scots and others).
So we figure that this still gives Protestants at least six additional "exempt" or "free" days (to replace the six Saturdays that fall during this Season).
These can be used as needed when invited over to the homes of friends and relatives, (or when having them over at your own home) or simply whenever desired.
And as always: additional times of prayer and your "heart attitude" during any fasting period have always been considered to be more important than simply the act of "not eating" something. ______________