Advent

Advent

As we enter into another period of Advent, we thought we would take a look at the true meaning of Advent and some of the traditions that we observe during this time.

What does Advent mean?

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation of celebration of the second coming of Jesus by many Western Christian Churches. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming. Advent is the lead up to the Nativity of Jesus, and begins in 2016 on Sunday the 27th November.

Advent Calendars

As the start of Advent varies from the 27th November to the 3rd December due to the Sunday that is closest to Saint Andrews Day, most Advent Calendars will commence the countdown to Christmas and therefore the Advent period on the 1st December.

Advent Calendars were first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th Centuries ubiquitous with many Christian denominations.

On the market today, there are many different themes and styles of calendar, with a simple idea behind them all. The idea being, opening or unveiling something on a day-to-day basis from the 1st December right through to and including Christmas Eve, or in some cases up to and including Christmas Day. Themes include traditional designs through to more contemporary, technology to sport. Some are very simple paper designs with flaps over the days to be opened, whereas some are card with a hidden piece of festive shaped chocolate hiding inside.

The market also has some more adult designs available ranging from a small packet of Pork Scratchings hiding inside the windows through to a very expensive malt Whiskey calendar which includes sampling bottles of fine malts, one of which of the bottles is worth nearly £1000.00.

Other designs include wooden shapes with drawers in where the user can insert any treat they wish, right through to some interactive versions available on certain websites which provide a special offer each day.

Most children enjoy the idea of opening an Advent calendar window to not only count down to the arrival of Father Christmas but also to eat the chocolate behind!

The origins of Father Christmas

The real story and person behind Father Christmas is a rich man named Nicholas who inherited a lot of money when his parents died. There is a story of Nicholas that goes on to say that he donated money to a poor family via dropping some money down the chimney which landed in a stocking that had been left hanging to dry. This first present allowed the poor family’s eldest daughter to get married by paying the dowry to the bridegroom. A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the bride’s parents on their wedding day, this practice still occurs in some countries today. Without the kind gift from Nicholas, the daughter would have been unable to marry.

The events repeated, allowing the middle daughter to get married, again with the gift of money falling into the stocking that had been left to dry. The father of the girls wanted to find out how this money was appearing and so he set a trap to identify the nice person, by waiting beside the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas. Of course, Nicholas asked the poor man to not tell anyone, which was agreed.

Over time the story of the kind rich man got out, and whenever anyone received a gift they believed it was from Nicholas himself. Because of his kindness, Nicholas was made a saint, making him Saint Nicholas (known today as Saint Nick!). This story also shows how the idea of hanging stockings by the fireplace for Father Christmas began.

Nicholas lived during the 4th Century.

As time went on the story of Saint Nicholas became unpopular particularly after the reformation in the 16th Century.

Of course, someone had to deliver the presents to the little boys and girls at Christmas and so in the UK, particularly England, he became known as Father Christmas or ‘Old Man Christmas’.

Other names for Father Christmas:
France Père Nöel
Germany Christ Kind
Early USA Kris Kringle
Dutch Settlers in USA Sinterklaas
(Santa Claus)

Father Christmas began to become popular again in the mid-17th Century where he began to pop up in pictures and stories. However at that time he was referred to for adults and nothing to do with children and the deliverance of presents; this changed throughout the period up to 1880, when he was then seen as wearing red and as we know him today. Since then the tradition and history of Christmas has continued to develop and bring joy to many millions of children across the world.

Throughout history, Father Christmas and Santa Claus had been seen as different entities, but since the 1880s they have begun to be seen as one and the same thing.

When are the 12 Days of Christmas?

A popular song that is sung and used through the advent period is the 12 Days of Christmas, most people will be able to name the first 6/7 gifts that ‘my true love gave to me’, however beyond this point we get confused. Below we have explored the song days and gifts in some detail, and linking them to the calendar day that the presents would have been given:

Date Day Present Number of times
‘given’
Total number
of presents
25/12 1 Partridge in a Pear Tree 12 12
26/12 2 Turtle Doves 11 22
27/12 3 French Hens 10 30
28/12 4 Calling Birds 9 36
29/12 5 Gold Rings 8 40
30/12 6 Geese a-laying 7 42
31/12 7 Swans a-swimming 6 42
01/01 8 Maids a-milking 5 40
02/01 9 Ladies Dancing 4 36
03/01 10 Lords a-leaping 3 30
04/01 11 Pipers Piping 2 22
05/01 12 Drummers Drumming 1 12
Total number of presents in the song: 364

The 12 Days of Christmas was first used in around 1780 and there are a few versions with subtle differences in the gifts, however our list above seems to be the most familiar, possibly with the exception of 4 Colly Birds as opposed to 4 Calling Birds.

The song leads up to the Epiphany, which is the 6th January and tradition says that Christmas decorations should be taken down on this day; Not a day before nor after. If any decorations are left up beyond this point they should then remain up all year round, otherwise it is bad luck.

Why decorate?

The tradition of using green trees indoors goes back a long way, even before it was used as a Christmas decoration. Pagan tradition shows that using an evergreen tree indoors is a symbol of life amidst dark and cold days. Today’s tradition dates back to Roman times, although those in Northern Europe were sceptical to the idea. The Romans displayed their trees around the New Year celebrations.

According to Christianity Today’s website, Northern Europe’s scepticism stems from a prominent Christian called, Tertullian, who has been quoted as saying:

‘Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent,
affix to their posts,
laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of
darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable.
You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green.
If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple’

This stance softened over the years as missionaries spread a legend that every tree threw off ice and snow when Jesus Christ was born to reveal luscious green leaves and branches.

Somewhere in the 1500s did evergreen trees really become associated with Christmas, it is believed because of trees being decorated in biblical and nativity plays. As the plays got rowdier and rowdier in the 16th Century, the plays were banned, leading people to move their decorated trees into their own homes – taking a Christmas tree into its pride of place, and the tradition began. Eventually, churches began to put up decorated trees too.

The tradition of lights on a tree, began as churches began to put up decorated trees, usually next to shelves of candles which illuminated the tree, soon the candles on the shelves started to adorn the tree and illuminate it from being on the tree. This has over time, and with the electrification of homes, led to the tradition of the day of using ‘fairy’ lights to light the trees within the home.

History shows us that the Romans used to wait until after noon on Christmas Eve before their tree went up. There doesn’t seem to be a fable or tradition that says when a tree should be erected into the home, but some people put it up on December the 1st others wait ‘til the second Saturday in Advent.

Some people use real trees, some use artificial trees that can be brought out of the attic each year, some use the same tree that had been decorated the year before, wrapped in cling film and stored, then unwrapped, some find the experience of decorating a tree from scratch part of the experience. The moral of the story is it doesn’t seem to matter as long as the tree is enjoyed and all decorations have been removed by Epiphany, to avoid any bad luck.

Nativity

Christmas as we know is a time for children, family and the giving and receiving of presents. But should we really ever forget the true meaning of Christmas? I don’t think you have to be particularly religious to mark or remember the ‘birth’ of Jesus Christ. The story I believe has much more to it.

Firstly, and for some Christians the most important part of Christmas is that it is the day that Jesus Christ was born in a manger in Bethlehem (I bet you’re now singing Away in a Manger in your head!).

Secondly, the thing that Christians will point out is that CHRISTmas begins with Christ!

Now let’s think about the story of the Nativity:

It happened over 2000 years ago, when King Herod ruled Judea, now a part of Israel, an angel came from the sky to a young woman called Mary, and said ‘Peace be with you! God has blessed you!’ and went on to explain that Mary would give birth to the son of God and how she would call him Jesus.

At the time the Roman Emperor, Augustus, had called all his people to their homeland in order to conduct a census to ensure all taxpayers were paying their taxes. Mary and Joseph had to endure a journey of some 70 miles on foot and donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem whilst Mary was heavily pregnant with child. When at Bethlehem they had problems finding a place to stay and when enquiring at an inn, although it was full, the innkeeper offered the stable. In that stable, a child was born to Mary and Joseph. That child would be known as Jesus, son of God. He was laid in a manger of hay and straw as Mary and Joseph rested alongside.

After his birth, some shepherds were visited by an angel who informed them that the Saviour was born in Bethlehem and they decided that they should visit him to see the Saviour.

Whilst, this was happening a joyous bright new star formed in the sky, some Wise Men in a faraway land saw the star and being wise and having studied the stars and read the old readings they knew that the son of God had been born. They got some gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, and followed the star towards the stable in Bethlehem, (the star came to rest over the stable of the child’s birthplace). En route, King Herod had summoned them to tell him where the child was as he wanted to kill the new king. The Wise Men arrived at the stable and wondered at the newborn baby, delivering their gifts before returning to their own land by a different route to avoid bumping into King Herod, and thus avoiding informing him of the child’s location.

Although a brief walk through the story, there are a lot of underlying messages that lie there, including kindness, family, togetherness and looking at Mary and Joseph, it doesn’t matter what you begin with but what you end up with. They made the most of a stable to welcome their child into the world.

As I have said, the story behind Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ, and whether religious or not the story can teach us so many things.

And as we enter this Advent period I would hope that we can even in a small part remember some of the messages of the story,

but here at The Training Fox…….

We would like to wish
All our customers, supporters and suppliers
A VERY
Merry Christmas.

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