Christmas customs

11 12, 2017

Christmas Music – the Customs and Traditions

By |2017-12-03T07:05:52-06:00December 11th, 2017|Holidays, Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

Christian tradition and the liturgical Church calendar recognize the Christmas season from sundown on December 24 (Christmas Eve) through Epiphany of the Lord (January 6). Most of us celebrated the single day, December 25.

Songs of the season are a different story. Christmas music runs non-stop through store speakers beginning after Halloween. Satellite stations and cable networks devote channels to holiday-themed music and shows beginning at Thanksgiving.

For some that’s a good thing. For others, it’s too much. Personally, I’d prefer some Christmas carols and contemporary Christmas songs throughout the year instead of the over saturation.

There was a time before the fourth century when there were no Birth-of-Christ hymns. A songbook with carols only appeared after Christmas was formalized as a feast and fixed to Dec. 25.

In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi organized nativity pageants featuring real hay, real animals, and, for the first time, real narrative songs. Christmas singing took on a life of its own, beyond the constraints of the sacred feast. Even drinking songs (much to the church’s horror) contained Yuletide lyrics.

Christmas celebrations and caroling died with the Puritan movement when Cromwell’s Parliament banned any secular observances under threat of fines. The restrictions crossed the Atlantic and settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony restricted Christmas caroling and festivities too.

The popularity of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol struck down the grim, Puritan-inflected holiday and led to the 20th century festive, secular tunes. One of the most popular of those songs is “White Christmas,” composed in 1940 by Jewish Irving Berlin, who did not much care for the holiday.

white-christmas Berlin’s tune, Bing Crosby’s rendition, and the 1954 movie by the same title ushered in carols, songs, and theatrical productions appealing more to the Yuletide mood than to the holiday itself.

Others holiday songs like  “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” followed. New versions of these old songs, secular and traditional, quickly emerged.

Whether we want to or not, we find ourselves humming or singing along with the old-fashioned melodies.

One of our family Christmas traditions was to gather around the piano and sing carols from the church hymnal.  A tradition that now includes other instruments.

Christmas music listeners might distinguish between sacred songs (those with lyrics about Christ’s birth) and secular ones (Santa Claus, snowmen, mistletoe, elves, etc.) If you go wassailing or caroling, you make conscious choices on what to sing.

Whatever lyrics you choose, Christmas music anchors us in the past —before Shakespeare and Beowulf and all the eras in between—and fills us with the spirit of Christmas.

What’s your favorite Christmas song or carol?

5 12, 2016

Let the Christmas Traditions and Customs Begin

By |2017-12-03T07:08:26-06:00December 5th, 2016|Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

Santa Claus waves to spectators along Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Santa Claus waves to spectators along Central Park West during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Santa is officially tucked in place at Macy’s New York. You did watch the Macy parade on Thanksgiving, didn’t you?

Macy’s parade always signals Christmas preparations and traditions can officially begin for me.

I absolutely love Christmas customs and traditions. This month I’ll be sharing about my favorites starting with the Advent wreath.

If you attend a traditional liturgical church, you probably lit the second candle of an Advent Wreath yesterday because Advent this year began on Sunday, November 27.

Not familiar with the tradition of Advent? Here’s my cliff note version:

Advent comes from adventus meaning “coming” or “visit” and includes the four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent also serves as the beginning of the liturgical year for churches.

Observance of advent began sometime after the 4th century. In the Middle Ages, the church extended the celebration to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit.

Modern-day Advent services center on a garland wreath of evergreen branches representing eternity and symbolizing the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

The wreath contains three purple (or blue) candles, one pink candle, and one white candle. Each successive Sunday of Advent one of the candles is lit. The order and exact wording used as the candles come to light varies among churches.

Traditionally, the Prophecy Candle is first. Second Sunday candle is the Bethlehem candle. Third Sunday candle is the pink Shepherd candle. Fourth Sunday is the last purple candle called the Angel Candle. The White Candle (or Christ Candle) is lit on Christmas Eve.

Other variations light the candles to represent Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy.

Read more about the symbolism of the advent wreath, candles, and colors here.

If your church does not formally recognize a season of Advent, constructing an Advent wreath for your home can be part of family holiday traditions.

Here’s a link to an Advent wreath-coloring page for children. You’ll also find fun holiday activities to occupy little hands there.

Observing Advent is a great way to keep Christ the focus, teach the true meaning of Christmas, and diminish the commercialism of Christmas.

Is an advent wreath part of your Christmas season?

2 12, 2013

Christmas Traditions and Customs – Advent Wreath

By |2013-12-02T06:00:19-06:00December 2nd, 2013|Holidays, Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the spirit of giving and love that abounds. All the traditions and customs fascinate me. This month, I’ll be sharing stories about different Christmas traditions and customs.

KI17OX2AToday I want to talk about the advent wreath with one caveat: I’m not a theologian or a preacher. For theology questions, I highly recommend this website, Notbyworks.org

I’ll be offering “Just the facts,” as fictional Dragnet detective Joe Friday always said – and, of course, an opinion, or two.

Yesterday, December 1, marked the beginning of advent season for this year.

Not familiar with Advent or Advent Wreaths? Let me share the facts.

The word advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning arrival or coming, particularly of something having great importance. For Christians, Advent is the spiritual preparation for Christ’s birth on Christmas.

Christians in the following denominations observe Advent:

• Catholic

• Orthodox

• Anglican / Episcopalian

• Lutheran

• Methodist

• Presbyterian

 The observation of advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday, which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24.

Advent also happens to mark the beginning of the Christian church calendar.

The origins of advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany, and not in anticipation of Christmas. In the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great associated the season with the Second Coming of Christ.

By the Middle Ages, the church had extended the celebration of advent to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit.

Modern-day church advent services include symbolic customs related to all three “advents” of Christ, depending upon the denomination.

Some people incorporate advent activities into their family holiday traditions if their church does not formally recognize a season of Advent.

Using an advent wreath can help diminish the commercialism of Christmas and constructing an advent wreath can be a fun Christmas project.

The wreath contains three purple candles, one pink candle, and one white candle set on a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. The wreath itself symbolizes the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

In churches, the candles are lit on successive Sundays during the worship servicechurch advent

The Prophecy Candle is first. Many churches use blue to distinguish Advent from the observation of Lent.

Second Sunday another purple candle is lit. This time the Bethlehem candle. Third Sunday candle is the pink Shepherd candle. Fourth Sunday is the last purple candle called the Angel Candle. The White Candle or Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Eve.

Here’s another version of the candles’ symbolism:

advent-wreath-coloring-page

Read more about the symbolism of the advent wreath, candles, and colors here.

YOUR TURN: Is an advent wreath part of your Christmas season?