Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advent Season, Short and Long


The Advent season lasts three or four weeks all depending on which day of the week November 30 falls. November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, anchors the season. The temporally nearest Sunday is always the first Sunday of Advent. Therefore if the last day of November falls on a Sunday through Wednesday, the season is long, if Thursday through Saturday, the season is short. This year Advent began on November 27, therefore we’ve just completed the longest Advent, lasting fully 28 days.

As soon as I was a little grown, which meant that we were living in deeply Catholic Bavaria, lighting those four candles on the four Sundays of Advent has been the most memorable part of Christmas for me. Now I discover that the Advent wreath has its origins in a Lutheran tradition dating to 1839. That year a Lutheran theologian and teacher, Johan Hinrich Wichern, took on the care of several poor children and moved into an old farm house with them. Came the Christmas season, and the children began to agitate. They wanted to know when Christmas would finally come. Wichern took an old wagon wheel and constructed the first-ever Advent wreath. He placed 20 small red candles for the days of the week and four large white candles to mark the Sundays. The reason for this arrangement emerges when we look at a calendar for 1839, presented herewith.
     
December 1839
S
M
Tu
W
Th
F
S
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31




Ever since, as it were... Now, mind you, controversy soon surrounded this custom, and in a few decades or so Wichern’s origination of this custom came under fire. Someone claimed that a poem, written by a famous German poet, Matthias Claudius, who’d lived in the eighteenth century, had already appeared back then celebrating the Adventskrantz. But thanks to the diligence of the German Wikipedia, whence I have this lovely story (link), the actual author of the poem was a grand-nephew of Matthias, himself a lyricist and teacher, named Hermann Claudius (1878-1980). Thus Wichern retains his title. Not that people have got message yet—hence I encountered accounts of the wreath placing it into the dim pasts of antiquity.

In any case, we lit our candles yesterday evening for the first time, just about a week late. The long season’s done. And thus we wish you all a Merry Christmas on this Christmas Day.

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