Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Story of Advent

Sunrise over the mountains.  This is the view from our front yard.

I wanted to pop in this morning and share another passage regarding the season of Advent with you, a lovely passage. I found at the Internet Archives. Originally published in 1966, but sadly now out of print. It's just a quick history of Advent that I found interesting and wanted to share.

~ Enjoy!


Advent is known, and yet not known. To some it is merely a name; to others, a beautiful custom, a lovely practice. Most of us have taken little, if indeed any, time to learn the history of the season or ponder its significance.

Advent does have a. history, however, an interesting one. To begin with, the Advent season as we now know it does not go back to the beginning of the Christmas era. It may come as a surprise, or even a shock, to learn that the date for the celebration of Christmas has not always been December twenty-fifth. There was a time, for instance, when Christmas was celebrated on the sixth of January. The church year took form gradually, and even today is not uniform everywhere.

Advent as we think of it today, is a season of preparation for Christmas. It includes four Sundays and a variable number of additional days, depending on the day of the week on which December twenty-fifth falls. There is no evidence of an established celebration of Christmas on December twenty fifth until the fourth century, and the season of preparation for that celebration is even more recent.

The season of Advent as such as is not mentioned until the seventh century. Its observance is said to have originated in Gaul. However, a synod at Saragossa, Spain in 380 prescribed a penitential preparation for Christmas. Canon IV (a church rule), states that from the seventeenth of December to Feast of Epiphany (January 6), everyone must attend church daily and that worshippers may not go to church with bare feet. This canon is thought to be the first rule ever passed regarding the observance of the season before Christmas.

There is some vague evidence that a small church council held at Tours about A. D. 567 prescribed a fast to be kept by monks every day in December. This is regarded by some as the first unquestionable reference to an Advent season. A few years later, in the south of Gaul, there is found what seems to be a less exacting rule that applied to everyone regarding the number of days on which the fast was to be observed. It appears evident that it involved a period of tasing, broken only on the third Sunday, which bore the designation, Gaudete, “Rejoice ye.”

The Council of Macon, A.D. 581, also had something to say about the season we know as Advent. Beginning with the Festival of St. Martin (November 11), the second, fourth and sixth days of the week were to be observed as days of fasting. The length of the season, however, seems to have varied a great deal, ranging from six weeks to three, and even two. At the close of the sixth century, Rome established the four Sundays before Christmas as Advent Sundays; in the next century this practice became prevalent, though not universal to the West.

In Roman Catholic churches today, practices vary greatly as to fasting. In Great Britain and Ireland, Wednesdays and Fridays are observed as fast days; but in many part of Europe the weeks in Advent are not set apart in any special way.

In England forty days of fasting before the celebration of the birth of the Lord were observed in the seventh and eighth centuries, as ordered for the Western church by Charlemagne’s “Homilarium.” In 1662 the English Book of Common Prayer stated that “Advent Sunday is always the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew (November 30), whether before or after.”

In the Greek church the general observance of forty days of penitential preparation for Christmas does not appear to have been established before the thirteenth century. The Greek church of today begins the forty days of preparation on November eleventh. The fast is somewhat rigorous on Wednesdays and Fridays and somewhat relaxed on other days.

Different customs have obtained and still obtain during Advent. The Armenians, for instance, observe a fast during the week preceding the Nativity, and during one week beginning fifty days before the Nativity. For this reason it has been thought that these two weeks are of a survival of a fast that had originally lasted fifty days. In Normandy farmers still employ children to run with lighted torches through the fields and orchards setting fire to bundles of straw in order to drive out vermin so that the Christ child might have a clean bed. In Italy the last days of Advent are marked by the entry into Rome of the Calabrian pifferari (itinerant musicians from Calabia) who play bagpipes before the shrines of the Holy Mother, as the shepherds are believed to have done before the infant Savior.

It was natural, perhaps, inevitable, that in those branches of the early Protestant church which reacted violently against even the celebration of Christmas there should be no interest in the Advent season as such. In the liturgical branches of the Protestant church, of course, the season has always had considerable meaning. But it is to be noted that in nearly all church there is today a tendency to a growing observance of the special days and seasons of the Church year. The renewed emphasis presently being given to Advent is in part a reaction against the growing secularization of Christmas. Advent is seen to afford the Christian an opportunity to think clearly and soberly about the mystery of the Incarnation.

- Paul M. Lindberg

Advent: The Days Before Christmas (1966)


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Very interesting reading.

Judith D.

Kimberly Lottman said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)