My housemates like to tease me by calling the Advent bouquet I have put up in our kitchen a Christmas bush or a Christmas tree. They think I will take offence when they call it a tree or a bush. But actually, renaming it as a bush I can forgive. It does sound much more impressive than bouquet. But turning Advent into Christmas I can't let slide; they are distinctly different and the difference is important to me. If I hear anyone play “Silent Night” before Christmas Eve I am going to glance at them disapprovingly! It is a Christmas Carol and those are for Christmas only. For the rest of December there are plenty of beautiful Advent Hymns.
Why do I feel so strongly about this? Well, it has to do with growing up in Dresden in Germany. There, Advent is a very big deal and distinctly separate from Christmas. Christmas only starts on the 24th of December and Advent starts on the first Advent Sunday, four Sundays before Christmas.
Growing up, Advent was my favourite time of the year. It meant looking forward to Christmas, many choir rehearsals, cookie baking and from Sunday to Sunday an increasing amount of little wooden decorations around the house. Each Sunday during Advent my mother would get another big box of decorations from the attic. From many small cases handcrafted wooden angels, stars, miners, incense smokers and nutcrackers appeared and were placed on shelves and in nooks and crannies around the house. The closer we got to Christmas the more festive the house became. As a child this stirred great anticipation in me. As I opened more and more doors on my Advent calendar I could feel Christmas drawing closer. Most of my anticipation was focused on our big choir and nativity performance on Christmas Eve, and of course the opening of presents.
Despite all of the fuss we were making about Advent I didn't really think about what we were actually waiting for. Only when I grew older and really listened to the Advent Hymns did I realize that presents were not the only thing we were waiting for. During Advent we are waiting for the arrival of a Saviour, we are looking forward to hope and comfort. As one of my favourite Advent Hymns puts it: “Where are you, comforter of the whole world, on which we put all our hope? O come, oh come from the highest hall, come, comfort us here in the vale of tears.” “O Saviour, rip open the heavens, down, down from heavens run.”
As a child I was too focused on the material aspects of Christmas, therefore I experienced Advent as waiting for presents. Now I often find myself distracted from the real meaning of Advent by Christmas shifting earlier and earlier. What am I waiting for when I have already attended three Christmas parties before December even began? When people are playing “Silent Night” all throughout December I find it hard to experience Advent as a waiting for Christmas. It can also become a very busy time. Everyone is running around to do their Christmas shopping, get the best deals and get all their work finished before the end of the year. But Advent is a period of waiting and preparing for the arrival of Jesus Christ. To remind myself of that I at least pause on the Advent Sundays to prepare myself for Christmas.
Another great German Advent hymn gives advice on how to do that:
“Make high the door, the gate make wide,
your heart as a temple prepare.
The twigs of godliness put on
with devotion, pleasure and joy;
so the king will come to you as well,
yes, salvation and life at the same time.
O praise be to my God"
Written by SCM Member Juliane Borchert.