While the church calendar says
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While the church calendar says it’s only Advent, the next season, Christmas, has seemingly sprung up all around us. Perhaps because, these days, we are seeing it even before Halloween, it sometimes seems hard to find the Christmas spirit, despite our best efforts. After all, it seems clear that a modern Christmas isn’t exactly what it should be, as the holiday becomes more and more secular. This is a problem around the world. As I struggle to locate merry and bright, I’ve found it adds to my discouragement that, though the connectivity is obvious, the 2022 census shows that Christianity is no longer the practice of the majority of England, from which so many of our customs and practices derive, including, I might add, my own Christian faith: Anglicanism.
Within the church, many traditions can still be found, some dating back centuries, including the hanging of the greens, the practice of decorating the church for the seasons of Advent, the beginning of the church calendar, and Christmas. This year, with the cancellation of the service surrounding the ‘Hanging of the Greens,’ my mother and I spent some time over the Thanksgiving break bringing the wonderment of the holidays to our church, Christ the King Anglican. If I’m honest, I had forgotten how tough that is, having previously recruited my family for similar stints at the McCreary County Museum for Christmas Candlelight Tours and all around Historic Stearns, including the Store 1 Christmas window, sans heating or electricity, where my mother contracted pneumonia just a few short years after falling and breaking bones awaiting horse and buggy rides in the historic district – – and, yet, somehow, so far, they’ve continued to have me at Christmas dinner. Needless to say, having been a while since such an undertaking and broken bones forgiven, I found muscles I had long forgotten existed, but for this traditionalist, fulfilling centuries old tradition seemed, somehow, worth the effort.and appropriate.
For many Christians, the season of Advent is a season of preparation, grounding ourselves spiritually for the occasion of Christmas; the coming of and celebration of Christ, an obvious highlight of the Christian calendar. As Advent falls in the darkest days of the year, the symbols of the season seem appropriately the candle. For our greening efforts, my mother and I were honored to light the first candle of the season. The first candle, the prophecy candle, represents hope, the coming of a new tomorrow, the very essence of Christmas itself. It’s a tradition that, when lit, can make you feel a comforting connection to millions around the world, as parish by parish and church by church, Christians begin the trek toward the holiday.
[The second, the Bethlehem candle, represents faith; the third, joy; the fourth, peace, reminding us of our aspirations to seek “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” The white candle at the center of the candles will be lit on Christmas Eve.]
I have always found that there is comfort in the familiar, even when we can’t necessarily call it by name. In exploration of church traditions, one might find that, unbeknownst to them and whatever their faith, families have undertaken such adherences for generations; at least, mindfully, in the South, in a tiny corner of which, I find myself tucked away for winter, and, at least, I should say, when Christmas still customarily occurred after the ghosts and goblins of Halloween.
Thus, as ‘Lady Mary Crawley’ famously reminded us in the ITV/Masterpiece series, “Downton Abbey” (and continues to, annually, in Facebook memes), the Christmas tree stays up until Epiphany, the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, which we sing so joyfully about each season. “You’ll get used to way things are done here,” Lady Mary quips. “Properly.” Tradition in most households, American and British, have long adhered to the ‘proper’ way, as many of you will already recognize that the tree goes up after Thanksgiving, near the start of Advent, and comes down after New Year, nearing Epiphany, thus one of many customs and traditions that come both from the church and from merry old England. Indeed, there is comfort in the familiar, and as we look out over a world, often seeming dark and dim, what more reassurances are there this holiday season than the defining messages of Advent: hope, faith, joy, and peace.