Advent is almost here. Of course we all know what this means:
- You can play and listen to holiday music without people thinking you’re “rushing the season.”
- It’s okay for stores to have holiday decorations.
- Children start to behave a little bit better.
But most importantly. . .
- It’s almost Christmas! It’s almost Christmas! It’s almost Christmas!
This year is unique since Advent actually starts on December 1st and what are often referred to as Advent Calendars, but are in reality Christmas Countdown calendars, start on December 1st so it is one of those times when two worlds collide – in a good way.
Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christmas and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming.”
Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath or Advent candles, putting up a Christmas tree, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas that are traditional in each persons family, such as setting up Christmas decorations, baking, or buying lutefisk.
What are called Advent calendars in many parts of the world are called Christmas calendars (julekalenderen) in Norway. Jul means Christmas.
Technically speaking they don’t have Advent calendars in Norway because Advent always starts on a Sunday, but Advent calendars always begin on December first. Since Christmas can be any day of the week, in their practical way, Norwegians can see that a calendar with 24 days doesn’t fit with a sliding date – except for this magical year.
A candelabra with four candles is often used during this time. On the first Sunday of Advent the first candle is lit. And it goes on in each Advent Sunday. There is even a special song recited at the same time that candles are lit. This is one of those songs. The melody is beautiful and peaceful even if you don’t understand the words. A translation is provided below the video. Enjoy:
Light a candle (Tenn lys)
Light a candle! One candle will burn for this little earth
The shiny star in heaven, where we all live
May all share the hope, so good things can happen
May earth and heaven meet. A candle is lit for that
Light a candle! Two lights will shine for love and faith
For those who care and always reconcile
May prisoners have their freedom and refugees a home
Light a candle for those who cry and those who comfort them
Light a candle! Three candles will sparkle for all who have to fight
For justice and freedom. They need help from us
May no one loose their hope before all people are one
Light a candle for those who fight for freedom and for what is right
Light a candle! Now four candles are shining for he
who loves all that lives, every lion and every lamb
Light a candle for the heavenly king the shepherd saw
Now heaven and earth are meeting in the child lying in the grass
The most typical food in this time of the year, besides gingerbread cookies – also known as pepperkaker (a recipe for it can be found here) is porridge. It is usually served hot in a bowl, with butter, cinnamon and sugar on the top. It’s traditional to hide an almond in the porridge, and the person who find it will get a marzipan pig as present. Here is one sample of how to make Scandinavian porridge:
Advent is also time for Christmas decorating in houses. The families get together to set the Christmas tree, make cards, cookies, and decorations.
A unique tradition in Denmark is the Children’s Developing Country Calendar. It can be bought in banks and post offices and the profits go to children in a chosen developing country.
Another Danish traditions is the “Children’s Christmas Calendar” which is a television show made by Danish television. Most years a new one is made. Every day from the first of December to the 24th of December, a new episode is shown on television. It is usually a Christmas story or fairytale. In the later years, there’s been a tradition for an adult Christmas calendar on television as well. These shows are usually humorous:
In Sweden you will see adventsljustakars, or Advent candlesticks, a signal that the countdown to Christmas has begun. People begin putting them up on Advent Sunday. By the end of the first week of December, it will seem as though every home, shop and office in Sweden is displaying adventsljustakars. In the darkness of a Swedish December, many people are glad to take the chance to spread a bit of light.
The advent lights are a modern interpretation of traditional advent candles. As in many other Christian countries, many Swedes keep candlesticks with four candles in their homes during Advent. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
Another popular tradition is to hang a paper star in the window. The Christmas Star or Adventstjärna was originally found in Germany, but has become a tradition in Sweden. The star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem.
Of course, Advent in Sweden includes some seasonal delicacies. The country’s favorite festive beverage is glögg, a sweet, warm mulled wine flavoured with spices including cinnamon, cardamom and served with raisins and almonds. Other forms of glögg are made with spirits such as brandy or akvavit. Glögg parties are popular in December. (You can find glögg fixings here.)
December is one of the most hectic months for Swedish families. The burden of work is always heavy at this time of year. There is much to be done in a short space of time before everyone can sit back and relax. For the children, meanwhile, December involves numerous end-of-term ceremonies, shows and activities.
The longed-for peace and quiet comes later, when all the preparations have been completed and Christmas can begin in earnest. On the first Sunday in Advent, many Swedes get together to drink glögg – a hot, spicy mulled wine with blanched almonds and raisins – and pepparkakor (ginger snaps) to accompany it.
Many churches and families both here and in Scandinavia have traditions around the four candles and while there is no universally agreed on meaning for each candle, the theme is often faith, hope, joy, and love. If you use Advent candles as part of your Christmas traditions we hope they burn bright and surround you and your family with love.