Our 3rd Week of Advent

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It has snowed a lot since Friday. We have about 6-8 inches of the wet stuff. It is awesome. Looking down on the valley, the trees sparkle. It decorates all the bare branches with elegance.

Today is our 3rd day of Advent. We celebrate Advent with the intention of celebrating the Sun's returns. ADVENT means "the coming or arrival, especially of something awaited for or momentous". It springs from the same root as "adventure". Since the 5th century of the Common Era, when the birth of Christ was declared to have occurred on December 25, Advent has been called the period of awaiting the anniversary of his birth. But in that era, December 25 was understood to be the Winter Solstice, the day of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun). Nowadays, astronomers pinpoint the precise moment each year: sometimes December 21, sometimes 22 is the true Solstice.

At the time of the Winter Solstice (called Midwinter because November 1, Samhain, is the beginning of Winter in our system, while February 1, Imbolc, is the end), the sun lingers in the north for about a week, appearing still. Solstice means "sun-standstill."

Advent Sunday in the sense most people know it today is defined as the first of the four Sundays in Advent, the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's day, which is November 30. (St. Andrew, one of the apostles, is now the patron saint of Scotland, and a legend of the middle ages declares he was killed upon a cross saltire, which is shaped like an X. This, curiously enough, is the same shape as the rune of the Scandinavian Goddess Gefjon (Freya) - "gifts" - and when surrounded by a circle becomes the doublestrength sun symbol of the Yule period, which to the Norse of Scandinavia and Scotland extended from late November through early January). The four Advent Sundays are those that precede Christmas or Yule.

It is no accident that the days on which the candles of the advent wreath are lit are Sundays. This day is the day of the Sun. Whether the ancestors of northern Europeans (from whom most of our other Yuletide customs descend) ever honored the Sun (or Moon) on a particular day is moot. After all, the old Teutons and Celts counted by nights and winters, not days and summers. (The months were named for moons). A survival of this is the use of the terms "Eve" (the night a feast begins) and "Night" (the night a feast concludes), as in, for instance, Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night, December 24 and January 6th respectively. But long before the Common Era the first day of the week was attributed in the Near East to the rulership of the Sun. We light the candles of the sun on the days of the Sun, to lend it strength even as the sun's power appears to wane.

The shape of advent wreath is most often round, with four candles set at equal intervals around the perimeter. Since the old Norse calendar mark for Winter solstice is a circle containing a dot, which later became a circle containing a cross, we might prefer to add a fifth candle, the candle of the Sun in the center, to be lit on the Solstice Day (December 21 /22 or 25). The first candle to be lit should be the candle of the east, the second, the candle of the south, the third, of the west, and the fourth, the candle of the north.

I made my Advent wreath from a styrofoam circle I covered with greenery and glued glass candle holders in equal intervals. I used 3 pillar candles in red and 1 in pink. In the middle I used a white pillar candle on an elevated candle holder. I decorated the wreath with springs of acorns and birds I got at the hobby store. It only took me about 1 hours to put together and it looks really nice.
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