And, Advent wreaths. Where do they come from? Is it true that they're just pagan wreaths borrowed by the Church?
The Catholic Church has been using advent wreaths since the Middle Ages. Lighting candles as we prepare for Christmas reminds us that Christ is the light of the world. And the evergreen boughs remind us of new and eternal life in Christ, the eternal son of the Father.
It is definitely true that Germanic people were lighting up candle wreaths in wintertime long before the Gospel arrived in their homeland. They did so because, well, candle wreaths in winter are beautiful and warm. That a Christian symbol emerged from that tradition is an indication that the Gospel can be expressed through the language, customs, and symbols of cultures that come to believe that Christ Jesus is Lord.
One candle is pink. Why?
There are four candles on the Advent wreath. Three are purple, and they are first lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, which we call Gaudete Sunday. On that Sunday, in addition to the pink candle, the priest wears a pink vestment, which he might refer to as rose. But rose, from this writer's perspective, is a shade of pink.
Gaudete is a word that means "Rejoice!" and we rejoice on Gaudete Sunday, because we are halfway through Advent. Some people have the custom of throwing "Gaudete" parties, and this is also a traditional day on which Christmas carolers begin caroling door-to-door.
The three purple candles are sometimes said to represent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the three spiritual disciplines that are key to a fruitful Advent.
I like the Advent calendars that have chocolate in them. Do you know where they come from?
No. But I like them too. The chocolate is usually pretty waxy, but still. I think the idea is to build up anticipation by having only one little treat each day. But sometimes I eat them all in the first week. Oops.
Is it wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent?
Wrong? No, not immoral or anything. But there are a lot of great Advent hymns and songs: "O Come O Come Emmanuel," "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," "O Come Divine Messiah," "Come Thou Fount," "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding"
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Wouldn't you rather sing those than Rudolph? Or the theologically insipid "Mary, Did You Know?"
When should we put up our tree?
Look, when to put up the tree is a decision that families should decide on their own, through time-honored holiday traditions like, say, arguing about when to put up the tree. I'm not getting in the middle of that.
Some people put up their tree and decorate it on the first Sunday of Advent, to make a big transformation in their home and get them into "preparing for Christmas" mode. That seems cool.
Some families say especially that this year they "need a little Christmas." I totally get it.
Some people put up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent, put on lights the next Sunday, ornaments the next, and decorate it more and more as they get closer to Christmas. That seems cool.