Opinion: A brief history of Advent


Commentary by Ward Degler

I keep finding things I didn’t know about my Catholic faith, a religion with a 2,000-year history. Recently I discovered a Catholic tradition with Lutheran roots — the Advent wreath and its four candles.

While Advent was proclaimed the official four-week preparation for Christmas by the Church in 300 A.D. during the Council of Sargossa, the candles themselves and the Advent wreath may have been the brainchild of a Lutheran minister in Germany in 1839.

The minister brought a wagon wheel into the church and placed 20 red candles around the rim and four white ones in the center. Every day starting Dec. 1, he lit a new candle.

A German social activist school teacher by the name of Elise Averdiek started the Advent calendar in 1851. To teach the children about Advent, she wrote a book in which a little girl listened to part of the Christmas story every day in December and placed a picture on the wall for each story. When she had 24 pictures, she knew that Christmas had come.

The candles themselves have their own meaning. The first candle is purple and is known as the Prophecy Candle. Prophecy refers to the writings of Isaiah who foretold the coming of the Messiah 800 years before the birth of Christ.

The second candle also is purple and is known as the Bethlehem Candle, a reminder that Jesus came into this world in the most humble manner. The third candle is pink and is known as the Shepherds Candle. It represents joy proclaimed to the shepherds and the entire world by heavenly hosts.

The fourth candle is purple and is known as the Angels Candle. It represents peace – peace on earth and good will toward all men.

Some churches add a fifth candle in the center of the wreath, a white one representing purity to be lit on Christmas Day. It is called the Christ Candle.

Other churches and cultures have different Advent traditions. Eastern Orthodox churches observe a fast from Nov. 15 to Dec. 24. Spanish-speaking nations celebrate “posados,” a community activity where families travel from house to house requesting posados, or shelter for the night. The homeowners, acting as innkeepers, deny them until they reach the last house where they are invited in for prayers and refreshments.

Spanish-speaking peoples also celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 in observance of the vision of the Virgin Mary by peasant farmer Juan Diego in 1531.

Although Spanish in origin, Our Lady of Guadalupe was proclaimed Patroness of  the Americas encompassing Mexico, the United States and Canada by Pope John Paul II. This gives us all something to celebrate while we are waiting for Christmas.

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