"There is something about saying, 'We always do this,' which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts." Edith Schaeffer
Throughout history, Christians have marked the passing of the days, weeks, and months of any given year with the sequential details of the Gospel story—with an anticipation of the coming of Jesus during Advent, His birth at Christmas, His trials, temptations, betrayal, and death during Lent, His resurrection at Easter, the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, and then the growth and maturity of the church thereafter until the cycle is repeated the next year. In other words, the keeping of the seasons is a way for us to retell the Gospel every single year, from start to finish.
Advent is thus, the beginning of the “church year” or “church calendar.”
This season is one of those rare times when even the most spontaneous of us loves to recall old traditions and familiar legacies. We love to sing old carols. We love to break out the old dishes, the old recipes, and the old stories. Advent traditions abound.
For instance, the Advent season begins today--four Sundays prior to Christmas. Traditionally, Christian families and churches have celebrated this season of preparation each Lord’s day with the lighting of one candle in a small table-top evergreen circle--known as an Advent Wreath--accompanied by an appropriate Scripture reading. The candles vary in color from culture to culture, but generally the first three candles are red or purple and the last one is white or golden. For families that find themselves each year vowing that their celebration of the season will focus more on the real meaning of Christmas and less on the brouhaha, this is the place to begin to set the tone for the holidays.
Another enduring tradition is Saint Nicholas Day. Celebrated on December 6, this day recalls the selfless service of Nicholas of Myra (c. 288-354). The fourth century pastor ultimately inspired the tradition of Santa Claus. In reality, he was a model of graciousness, generosity, and Christian charity. His great love and concern for children drew him into a crusade that ultimately resulted in child protection laws that remained in force for more than a thousand years. His feast day is celebrated around the world. In the Netherlands, cookies and gingerbread treats are often placed in shoes or laid out stockings for the sleeping children--which may well have been the origin of Christmas gifts and hearthside stockings.
Regardless of what particular traditions our individual families celebrate, as we begin this new season of glad tidings, let us enter into a new season of Gospel retelling with great joy, remember the old paths, the old ways, and the old traditions, with new and fresh faith.