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"Christian Feasts and Customs #6

Where they all came from - History - Traditions


CHRISTIAN FEASTS AND CUSTOMS 

by Francis Weiser 

ADVENT 

HISTORY 

Origin  

The celebration of Christ's nativity on December 25 was introduced as a special 
feast in Rome about the middle of the fourth century. It quickly spread through 
the Roman Empire of the West, and by the fifth century was already established 
in Gaul and Spain. Since it was one of the main feasts of the Christian year, 
a spiritual preparation soon began to be held. 

(DID YOU NOTICE IT? RIGHT FROM THE WORD GO, WEISER TELLS YOU THE 
CELEBRATION OF CHRIST'S BIRTH DID NOT ***START*** UNTIL ABOUT THE 
MIDDLE OF THE FOURTH CENTURY. FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS EVEN THE ROMAN 
CHURCH KNEW NOTHING ABOUT OBSERVING JESUS' 
BIRTH - Keith Hunt) 

From the Church in Gaul comes the first news about a definite period prescribed 
for this preparation. Bishop Perpetuus of Tours (490) issued the regulation that 
a fast should be held on three days, of every week from the Feast of Saint Martin 
(November 11) to Christmas.1 The name Advent was not yet used for this preparatory 
period; it was called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Forty Days' Fast of Saint Martin's).2 
This practice of keeping a penitential season before Christmas spread all through France, 
Spain, and later also to Germany. The fast, however, was started at different times 
(September 24, November 1 or 11 or 14, December 1). For Mass texts on the weekdays of 
Advent the Church in Gaul simply used the Masses of Lent.3 In Rome the celebration of 
Advent originated considerably later, during the sixth century. There the season comprised 
only four or five Sundays. Pope Gregory the Great (604) preached a number of homilies on 
Advent.4 Unlike the Gallic Church, Rome had no established fast (except, of course, in 
Ember week). Advent in Rome was a festive and joyful time of preparation for the Feast 
of the Lord's Nativity, without penitential character.5 When, in the eighth century, 
the Frankish Church accepted the Roman liturgy, the nonpenitential Advent of Rome clashed 
with the penitential observance of the much longer Gallic Advent. After a few centuries of 
vacillation there emerged a final structure of Advent celebration which combined features 
of both traditions. Rome adopted the fast and penitential character from the Gallic observance, 
while the Roman tradition of a four weeks' Advent and the Roman liturgical texts prevailed 
over the ancient Gallic custom of a seven or nine weeks' celebration. This compromise was 
completed in the thirteenth century. From that time, the liturgical observance of Advent 
has remained practically unchanged.6 Fast  The law of Advent fast was never as strict as 
that of Lent. It varied widely in different sections, both in content and in time. In most 
cases people were obliged to fast three days a week and to abstain from certain foods. Bishop 
Burchard of Worms (1025), for instance, issued the following regulation: "In the Quadragesima 
before Christmas you must abstain from wine, ale, honey-beer, meats, fats, cheese, and from 
fat fish."7 According to the penitential practice of those centuries, the faithful were also 
bound to abstain from weddings, amusements, pleasure travel, and from conjugal relations during 
the time of fasting.8 

(DO YOU SEE WHY PAUL WROTE TO THE COLOSSIANS IN CHAPTER TWO, ABOUT "BEWARE 
LEST ANY MAN SPOIL YOU THROUGH PHILOSOPHY AND VAIN DECEIT, AFTER THE TRADITION 
OF MEN, AFTER THE RUDIMNENTS OF THE WORLD AND NOT AFTER CHRIST.....WHEREFORE IF 
YOU BE DEAD WITH CHRIST FROM THE RUDIMENTS OF THE WORLD....ARE YOU SUBJECT TO 
ORDINANCES [TOUCH NOT; TASTE NOT; HANDLE NOT] .... AFTER THE ***COMMANDMENTS AND 
DOCTRINES OF MEN***" - SEE MY FULL INDEPTH STUDY OF COL.2:16 ON 
THIS WEBSITE - Keith Hunt) 

This observance of Advent fasting came from the North to Rome at the end of the first millennium. 
There it was quickly adopted by most monasteries, later also by the authorities of the Church, 
and finally prescribed for all the faithful. A letter of Pope Innocent III (1216) shows that in 
his time it already was a traditional part of the Advent celebration in Rome.9 In subsequent 
centuries the obligation was gradually lessened by papal indults, the fast usually being 
restricted to two days a week (for example, Friday and Saturday in Italy, Wednesday and Friday 
in Austria), until the new Code of Canon Law (1918) completely abrogated it and only kept the 
fast of Ember week and of the Christmas vigil (and, lately, the vigil fast of the Immaculate 
Conception, December 7). Oriental Churches  The Eastern Churches do not keep a liturgical 
season in preparation for Christmas, but they observe a fast. In the Byzantine Rite this fast 
has been customary from the eighth century. It begins on November 15 and lasts till Christmas. 
Its name is "Quadragesima of Saint Philip" (Tessaran-ihemeron Philippou) because it starts on 
the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip. The Syrians of the Antiochene Rite also have a 
fast of forty days before Christmas, but the Catholic Syrians keep it, by papal indult, only 
for the last nine days before the Nativity. The Armenians now celebrate a fast of three weeks 
(instead of the original seven weeks), at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of Advent. 
(Their Advent starts at the middle of November and runs until Epiphany.) The Copts, too, observe 
a fast, which is very strict, from November 24 (in upper Egypt) or from December 9 (in lower 
Egypt) until the Feast of the Nativity (which they celebrate on Epiphany). The Syro-Chaldeans 
begin their "Fast of the Nativity" or "Fast of the Annunciation" at the middle of November or, 
in some dioceses, on the Sunday nearest to December l.10 

(REMEMBER WEISER WAS WRITING THIS IN 1952; WHO KNOWS TODAY WHAT THE CHURCH OF 
ROME IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD OBSERVE - Keith Hunt) 

LITURGY 

Seasonal Character  

The liturgy of Advent is wanting in that harmony and unity which characterize the other seasons 
of the ecclesiastical year. Its features present a somewhat confused and unfinished aspect. 
Three factors are responsible for this. First, Gregory the Great, who had shaped the basic 
structure of the Roman Advent with the sure hand of an inspired leader, did not fill out the 
details himself.11 Second, the original form of the Roman celebration was mixed and molded with 
the Gallic features into a "unit" that contained two somewhat opposite trends of thought 
(a season of joy and, at the same time, a season of penance). Finally, after the combination 
was made, no master appeared who could have shaped these elements into a celebration of unified 
harmony. Instead, the structure was prevented from further growth and development and preserved 
without change through the past centuries up to the present.12 Thus, to give but a few examples, 
Advent has no ferial Masses, as Lent has, but on "free" days the Sunday Mass is repeated. It has 
no preface of its own, but must continue (on Sundays) the preface of the Holy Trinity, which does 
not actually fit the season. (Lent, on the other hand, has two fitting seasonal prefaces.) In Advent 
the liturgy of the season must bow on most days to feasts of saints, while in Lent only March 19 
and 25 take obligatory precedence. The orations in Advent express vari- ous trends and perspectives. 
Some of them speak of the coming of the Saviour at His birth, others of His coming at the end of time, 
and others again of a coming into the hearts of the faithful. Similarly, some lessons and Gospels 
clearly reveal the purpose of joyful preparation for Christmas, while others treat of the end of 
the world and the second coming of the Lord, not in the apostolic sense of jubilant expectation, 
but with the note of salutary fear and admonition to penance. In the Masses of the season (Sundays) 
the Gloria is omitted, and so is the Te Deum in the Divine Office; but the Alleluia is retained, 
and the third Sunday (Gaudete) bears a special character of joy.13 

Joy and Penance  

In Rome, for almost a thousand years Advent was celebrated as a season of joyous preparation for 
the Feast of the Lord's Nativity.14 The Gospel of the first Sunday in Advent (Luke 21:25-33), 
speaking of the end of the world, did not pertain to the original liturgy of Advent. Gregory the 
Great used it on a certain occasion when, at the end of November, a great storm had devastated 
Rome and killed many people. (Its descriptions read like modern reports of a hurricane.)16 The 
pope wanted to console the people and explain to them the meaning of such natural catastrophes, 
hence he took the Gospel text that begins "And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, 
and upon earth distress of nations." After the reading of this Gospel, he preached a homily on it. 
Now the fact that the pope had used this particular passage on a Sunday around the beginning of 
December was duly noted in the manual of the Roman Church. In later times it was mistakenly 
assumed that Gregory had intended it as a regular Advent text, and thus it appeared in the Roman 
Missal as Gospel of an Advent Mass.16 As late as the beginning of the twelfth century the liturgical 
books of St. Peter's in Rome show the use of festive vestments, of the Gloria in the Mass and the 
Te Deum in the Divine Office for Advent. By the middle of the same century, however, the Frankish 
influence had caused the Roman authorities to make the change from a season of joy to one of penance: 
Gloria and Te Deum were dropped, and Advent soon acquired the traditional marks of a season of 
penance, similar to Lent. The color of liturgical vestments then was black (later changed to purple), 
the dalmatic (deacon's vestment) was prohibited because it represented a "gown of joy," celebration 
of weddings and organ playing in church were forbidden, and various penitential features were 
introduced into the Divine Office. In some places the sacred images were even veiled with purple 
cloth as they were in Lent.17 On the other hand, all these changes toward a penitential aspect 
remained more or less on the surface, for its innermost liturgical character distinguishes Advent 
very sharply from Lent. The texts of the Roman Missal, despite occasional motives of fear, penance, 
and trembling (which had been added from the Frankish liturgy), kept its basic note of joyful 
expectation of Christ's birth. Thus the liturgists, from the twelfth century on, have found no 
simple unity in the celebration of Advent, but have had to explain its character by a diversity 
of purposes. William Duranti (1296), Archbishop of Ravenna, one of the first to analyze the 
liturgical significance of Advent, expressed it in a formula which since then has been repeated 
in many books: Advent is partly a time of joy (in expectation of the Saviour's nativity) and partly 
a season of mourning and penance (in expectation of the judgment on the Last Day).18 

Significance  

The name Advent (Coming) originally was used for the coming of Christ in His birth and was thus 
applied to Christmas only. After the sixth century various preachers and writers expanded its meaning 
to include the whole preparatory season, in the sense in which the word is now used. In the twelfth 
century it came to be interpreted as representing a two or threefold "Advent" of Christ: His past 
coming, in Bethlehem; His future coming, at the end of time; and His present coming, through grace 
in the hearts of men.19 The present penitential character of Advent, although not consonant with the 
original celebration in Rome, still usefully fits the purpose of the season. By a spirit of humble 
penance and contrition we should prepare ourselves for a worthy and fruitful celebration of the 
great Feast of the Nativity. This penance is not as harsh as that of Lent  there is no prescribed 
fast  and the joyful note of the season helps people to perform penitential exercises in a mood of 
happy spiritual toil, to "make ready the way of the Lord" (Matthew 3:3).20 

The Second Coming  

There actually is a season of the year in which the Church draws our minds and hearts to the second 
coming of Christ. This season extends over the end of the ecclesiastical year through Advent and up 
to Epiphany. After having celebrated the events of the Lord's life on earth, His birth, Passion, 
resurrection, and ascension, and also the descent of the Holy Spirit and the life of Christ in His 
Mystical Body, the Church finally puts before our eyes a magnificent vision of eternal glory and reward: 
in the Lord Himself (Feast of Christ, the King), in His members who have already passed from this world 
(All Saints and All Souls), and in the events at the end of time when the remaining elect will be 
gathered into their glory (Gospel of the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost; Matthew 24:15-35).21 
Thus the ecclesiastical year, like a majestic symphony, ends on the powerful and triumphant strains of 
a final victory, not yet obtained by all, but assured and certain for those who remain "faithful unto 
death" (Apocalypse 2, 10). Then follows, in Advent, the thought of our own spiritual preparation for 
this glorious coming of the Lord at the end of time, and the humble security of our hope that His last 
coming will be consoling and joyful, just as His coming and His manifestation was in the first 
Christmas and the first Epiphany at Bethlehem. 

(YES NOTICE IT: THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TEACHES THE ***SECOND COMING OF 
CHRIST*** SOMETHING MOST RELIGIOUS PEOPLE DO NOT REALIZE; THE ROMAN CATHOLIC 
CHURCH ITSELF DOES NOT GIVE IT GREAT MENTION PER SE IN ITS DAY TO DAY WORKINGS 
AND CHURCH SERVICES - Keith Hunt) 

FOLKLORE 

The Advent Wreath  

The Advent wreath originated a few hundred years ago among the Lutherans of eastern Germany.22 
It probably was suggested by one of the many light symbols which were used in folklore at the end 
of November and beginning of December. At that season of the year our pre-Christian forefathers began 
to celebrate the month of Yule (December) with the burning of lights and fires.23 The Christians in 
medieval times kept many of these light and fire symbols alive as popular traditions of ancient folklore. 
In the sixteenth century the custom started of using such lights as a religious symbol of Advent in the 
houses of the faithful. This practice quickly spread among the Protestants of eastern Germany and was 
soon accepted by Protestants and Catholics in other parts of the country.24 Recently it has not only 
found its way to America, but has been spreading so rapidly that it is already a cherished custom in 
many homes. 

(MORE CUSTOMS FROM THE PAGANS ADOPTED INTO CHRISTIANITY - Keith Hunt). 

The Advent wreath is exactly what the word implies, a wreath of evergreens (yew or fir or laurel), 
made in various sizes. 
It is either suspended from the ceiling or placed on a table, usually in front of the family shrine. 
Fastened to the wreath are four candles standing upright, at equal distances. These candles represent 
the four weeks of Advent.25 Daily at a certain time (usually in the evening), the family gathers for 
a short religious exercise. Every Sunday of Advent one more candle is lit, until all four candles shed 
their cheerful light to announce the approaching birthday of the Lord. All other lights are extinguished 
in the room, and only the gentle glow of the live candles illuminates the darkness. After some prayers, 
which are recited for the grace of a good and holy preparation for Christmas, the family sings one of 
the traditional Advent hymns or a song in honor of Mary. The traditional symbolism of the Advent wreath 
reminds the faithful of the Old Testament, when humanity was "sitting in darkness and in the shadow of 
death" (Luke 2:79); when the prophets, illumined by God, announced the Redeemer; and when the hearts of 
men glowed with the desire for the Messiah. The wreath  an ancient symbol of victory and glory  
symbolizes the "fulfillment of time" in the coming of Christ and the glory of His birth. (THE WREATH - 
AGAIN FROM THE PAGANS OF LONG AGO - Keith Hunt) In some sections of Europe it is customary for persons 
with the name of John or Joan to have the first right to light the candles on Advent wreath and Christmas 
tree, because John the Evangelist starts his Gospel by calling Christ the "Light of the World," and John 
the Baptist was the first one to see the light of divinity shining about the Lord at His baptism in the 
Jordan.28 

(IT'S NOT HARD TO ADAPT PAGAN CUSTOMS TO THE BIBLE IF ONE IS REALLY WANTING TO DO SO; 
AS SOME PEOPLE SAY "YOU CAN MAKE THE BIBLE SAY ANYTHING YOU WANT IT TO SAY" - YOU CAN 
IF YOU TAKE VERSES OUT OF CONTEXT AND WANT TO FIND THIS OR THAT TO FIT IN WITH PAGAN 
CUSTOMS YOU WANT TO ADOPT INTO THE CHURCH - 
Keith Hunt) 

Children's Letters  

This is an ancient Advent custom, widespread in Europe, Canada, and South America. When the children go 
to bed on the eve of St. Nicholas's Day (December 5), they put upon the window sills little notes which 
they have written or dictated, addressed to the Child Jesus. These letters, containing lists of desired 
Christmas presents, are supposed to be taken to heaven by Saint Nicholas or by angels. In South America 
the children write their notes to the "little Jesus" during the days from December 16 to 24 and put them 
in front of the crib, whence, they believe, angels take them to Heaven during the night. 

Preparing the Manger  

This custom originated in France but spread to many other countries. It is the practice of having children 
prepare a soft bedding in the manger by using little wisps of straw as tokens of prayers and good works. 
Every night the child is allowed to put in the crib one token for each act of devotion or virtue performed. 
Thus the Christ Child, coming on Christmas Day, finds an ample supply of tender straw to keep Him warm 
and to soften the hardness of the manger's boards. 

Advent Calendars  

Originating in Germany

Has of late been spreading widely in other countries. A colored scene of the "Christmas House" printed 
on a large piece of cardboard is put up at the beginning of December. Every day one "window" of the house 
is opened by the children, revealing a picture or symbol that points toward the coming Feast of Christmas. 
Finally, on December 24, the "door" is opened, showing the Nativity scene. These calendars are a useful 
means of keeping the children's minds pleasantly occupied with the expectation of Christmas and with the 
spiritual task of preparing their souls for the feast. 

Novena * 

In Central and South America, the nine days before Christmas are devoted to a popular novena in honor of 
the Holy Child (La Novena del Nino). 
In the decorated church, the crib is ready, set up for Christmas; the only figure missing is that of the 
Child, since the manger is always kept empty until Holy Night. The novena service consists of prayers and 
carol singing accompanied by popular instruments of the castanet type. After the novena service, the 
children roam through the streets of the cities and towns, throwing firecrackers and rockets, expressing 
their delight over the approach of Christmas.27 In central Europe the nine days before Christmas are kept 
in many places as a festive season. Since most of the religious observances were held after dark or before 
sunrise, people began to call this season the "Golden Nights." In the Alpine sections it is the custom to 
take a picture of the Blessed Virgin from house to house on these nine evenings (Carrying the Virgin). 
Every night the family and servants gather before the image, which stands on a table between flowers and 
burning candles. There they pray and sing hymns in honor of Mary the Expectant Mother. After the devotion, 
the picture is carried by a young man to a neighboring farm. The whole family, with torches and lanterns, 
accompanies the image, which is devoutly received and welcomed by its new hosts in front of their house.28 
Meanwhile, schoolboys carry a statue of Saint Joseph every night to one of their homes. Kneeling before it, 
they say prayers in honor of the saint. On the first night, only the boy who carried the statue and the 
one to whose home it was brought perform this devotion. The following nights, as the statue is taken from 
house to house, the number of boys increases, since all youngsters who had it in their home previously 
take part in the devotion. On the evening of December 24 all nine of them, accompanied by nine schoolgirls 
dressed in white, take the image in procession through the town to the church, where they put it up at the 
Christmas crib. This custom is called Joseph-stragen (Carrying Saint Joseph).29 

Advent Plays  

A type of Advent play is the German Herbergsuchen (Search for an Inn). It is a dramatic rendition of the Holy 
Family's fruitless efforts to find a shelter in Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary, tired and weary, knock at door 
after door, humbly asking for a place to stay. Realizing that they are poor, the owners refuse their request 
with harsh words, until they finally decide to seek shelter in a stable.30 Usually the whole performance 
is sung, and often it is followed by a "happy ending" showing a tableau of the cave with the Nativity scene. 
There are scores of different versions, depending on the various songs and sketches provided in the text. 
A similar custom is the Spanish Posada (the Inn), traditional in South American countries, especially Mexico. 
On an evening between December 16 and 24, several neighboring families gather in one house, where they 
prepare a shrine, and beside it a crib with all its traditional figures, but the manger is empty. After a 
procession through the house, pictures of Joseph and Mary are put on the shrine, venerated with prayer and 
incense, and all present are blessed by a priest. The religious part of the Posada is followed by a gay party 
for the adults, while the children are entertained with the Pinata. This is a fragile clay jar, suspended 
from the ceiling and filled with candy. The children, blindfolded, try to break the jar with a stick so the 
contents will spill, and everybody then rushes for some of its treasures.31 

Rorate Mass  

In the early mornings of the "Golden Nights," long before sunrise, a special Mass is celebrated in many places 
of central Europe. It is the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin for Advent, called Rorate from the first words of 
its text (Rorate coeli desuper: Dew of Heaven, shed the Just One). By a special permission of Rome, this 
Mass may be sung every morning before dawn during the nine days preceding Christmas provided the custom 
existed in a place from ancient times.32 The faithful come to the Rorate Mass in large numbers, carrying 
their lanterns through the dark of the winter morning.33 

Saint Thomas's Day  

In some parts of central Europe ancient customs of "driving demons aways" are practiced on the Feast of Saint 
Thomas the Apostle (December 21) and during the following nights (Rough Nights), with much noise, cracking of 
whips, ringing of hand bells, and parades of figures in horrible masks.34 In a Christianized version of this 
custom farmers will walk through the buildings and around the farmyard, accompanied by a son or one of the farm 
hands. They carry incense and holy water, which they sprinkle around as they walk. Meanwhile, the rest of the 
family and servants are gathered in the living room reciting the rosary. This rite is to sanctify and bless the 
whole farm in preparation for Christmas, to keep all evil spirits away on the festive days, and to obtain God's 
special protection for the coming year.35 

Christmas Eve  

Christmas Eve, the last one of the "Golden Nights," is the feast day of our first parents, Adam and Eve. 
They are commemorated as saints in the calendars of the Eastern Churches (Greeks, Syrians, Copts).36 
Under the influence of this Oriental practice, their veneration spread also in the West and became very 
popular toward the end of the first millennium of the Christian era. The Latin Church has never officially 
introduced their feast, though it did not prohibit their popular veneration. In many old churches 
of Europe their statues may still be seen among the images of saints. Boys and girls who bore the names of 
Adam and Eve (quite popular names in past centuries) celebrated their "Name Day" with great rejoicing. 
In Germany the custom began in the sixteenth century of putting up a "Paradise tree" in the homes in honor 
of the first parents. This was a fir tree laden with apples, and from it developed our modern Christmas tree.37
..........
 
AND THERE AGAIN YOU HAVE MANY MANY CUSTOMS EITHER ADOPTED DIRECTLY FROM THE PAGANS, 
OR RELIGIOUS RITES MADE UP AND ADDED TO GOD'S WORD. THE PLAIN TRUTH IS THAT GOD DOES 
NOT GIVE US THE RIGHT TO MAKE-UP OUR OWN RELIGION AS TO HOW WE WILL WORSHIP HIM. IT IS 
HE WHO TELLS US IN HIS WORD THE WAY TO WORSHIP HIM, AND IT IS HE WHO HAS 
GIVEN US HIS FEASTS, NOT MAN'S FEASTS, BUT HIS FESTIVALS - Keith Hunt 

To be continued


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