The Tradition of Advent

advent candlesEditor’s Note: Happy December! As Christmas nears, we’ll be sharing with you some of our favorite holiday traditions. So cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy!

Many people have fond childhood memories of advent calendars and candles marking the days in anticipation of Christmas time. A calendar of the month of December was proudly hung in many kitchens and family rooms to share the excitement of the coming celebration. Advent begins four weeks before the week of Christmas and includes two parts: candles and the calendar. Each Sunday of Advent, a candle on a wreath is lit to mark the nearing of the holiday. In some traditions, on Christmas, the final candle in the center is lit together as a family to celebrate the holiday’s arrival.

The advent calendar is meant to keep track of exactly how many days there are left until Christmas and sometimes to provide a small treat for everyday of December. At the start of the month, there are 25 days on a calendar that has a little box for each day, and each is filled with a little piece of candy, some Bible verses or an image. Each day, the children can take their treat and mark another day closer to Christmas. This is a fun, traditional way to increase excitement for the holiday. Kids love to take their treats from the calendar, and to light the candle excitedly on Sundays. This way, every day of the holiday month there is celebration, instead of limiting the joy to only the 25th. It’s a lovely way to celebrate Christ and family all month long. But where, and when, did this fun tradition come from? Many of us just go along with the Christmas fun without considering how the tradition started.

I can remember, at my old church when I was little, lighting the candles each week and then all coming together to light the last one on Christmas. It was a beautiful and traditional experience that I always loved, and it always made me so excited for the holiday. I never really considered the tradition behind it, though.

Christmas Family Photo

Here is a Christmas photo of my family and me when I was younger.

The history of Advent season is long and complex. The period of Advent originally was a time for those converting to Christianity to prepare for their Baptisms. During this season of preparation, converting Christians spent 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting. There was originally little connection between advent and the birth of Christ. Over time, though, it has transformed into a time of preparation for Christmas.

The tradition dates back to the 19th century in Germany, where people would draw chalk lines on their doors for each day leading up to Christmas. However, it’s estimated that customs similar to Advent calendars have existed since the fourth century. Gerhard Lang is credited for the creation of the first printed advent calendar, in the early 1900’s. President Eisenhower is known to have popularized them by having photos published of himself opening a day on an advent calendar with his grandchildren.

The advent calendar represents not only the excitement that comes with the Christmas season, but also the spirit of waiting for the return of Christ. Advent symbolizes the waiting and hoping in prayerful preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Advent is a time for Christians to celebrate the past coming of Christ, as well as wait hopefully for Him to come again. The season is a balance of celebration and anticipation. traditionally, the first two weeks of Advent are spent looking toward Christ’s second coming, and the last two weeks are spent in remembrance of the past. It is hard to remember sometimes amidst the holiday excitement, but the Advent season is meant to be one of sacrifice and fasting to remember all that has been done for us.

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Allison ErvinAllison Ervin, granddaughter of company founder Jay Lehman, is passionate about the powerless – children, animals and anyone in need. A freshman at Kent State majoring in international business with a minor in non-profit management, she has served in Indonesia and Central America, teaching English in daycare centers and orphanages. A committed vegetarian, when not studying or cat-cuddling, Allison enjoys painting, listening to the latest music, and thrifting (shopping at thrift and vintage stores).