Advent: Christians enter season of anticipation, hope

Purple candle lit, sitting in evergreen wreath with other candles

An Advent wreath with one candle lit, representing the first Sunday of Advent. Photo by Stephen Little, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2: The season of Advent begins today for over a billion Western Christians, as the church enters a new liturgical year and begins the season whose lighted wreaths and prayers anticipate the birth of Jesus.

On each of the four Sundays leading to Christmas, Christians light a new candle on the Advent wreath: three purple, and one rose-colored one. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and in some churches, a white pillar candle in the middle of the wreath is lit in Christmas Eve. (Note: In Protestant churches, Advent candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, they are typically blue.) Many congregations are draped in purple or blue, symbolizing hope and repentance. During Advent, Christians look to both Christ’s ancient birth and the Second Coming.

Note: Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—a strict, 40-day fast leading to the Nativity—on November 15.

Advent calendars have rapidly been gaining popularity in recent years, even amongst secular Christmas celebrants: Star Wars, candy-filled and even LEGO Advent calendars are filling store shelves in 2015. Still, traditionally faithful families may fashion their own Advent wreaths of evergreens and candles. Jesse Trees, used in many churches to provide necessary items for the needy during the season, have also been steadily gaining popularity.

Interested in making a DIY Advent wreath? Find information on making a base, candle-holders, greens and more at Catholic Culture.

Blessings for the Advent wreath can be found at the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Merry Christmas! Billions of Christians worldwide celebrate Jesus’s birth

Dimly lit church with evergreens and red ribbon decoration pew

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

MONDAY, DECEMBER 25: Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Day for the majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians, as the birth of Jesus is celebrated in great rejoicing. While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph welcomed their newborn son in a manger. With the celebration of Jesus’s birth, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Note: Some Eastern Christians mark Christmas according to the Julian calendar, which pushes many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration of Nativity (Christmas).

Many Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

CHRISTMAS: A HISTORY

Baby lit adults admiring in dark

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the formative years of the church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Christian saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

EASTERN CUSTOMS: JULIAN TO BETHLEHEM

Approximately half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

For a variety of traditional reasons, Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia hold their Nativity (Christmas) observance in January. This variance primarily involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity that takes place as late as January 18 or 19.

FOOD & RECIPES

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Christmas: Rejoice in the birth of Jesus with 2 billion Christians worldwide

Live Nativity with people

A live Nativity scene, from Radio City Music Spectacular. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 25: It’s Christmas Day for the vast majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians (including many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. who refer to the holiday as the Nativity), as the birth of Jesus is celebrated in great joy. While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph knelt beside their newborn son in a manger. On Christmas Day in most of the Church, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Did you know? Some Christians around the world still mark Christmas according to earlier versions of global calendars, which pushes many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration.

A CHRISTMAS HISTORY

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

Dimly lit interior of church, decorated for Christmas

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the formative years of the Church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Certain saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

ORTHODOX CUSTOMS

About half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

Celebrating in January—for a variety of traditional reasons—are Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Mainly this variance involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity.

RECIPES & MORE

The Christmas pudding cooked on Stir-up Sunday is still traditionally served in some countries, but for others, Christmas today is more about cookies and peppermint sweets than old-fashioned fruitcakes and puddings. Interested to learn more?

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Christmas: 2 billion Christians celebrate Jesus’s birth

“Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12

Interior of ornate cathedral softly lit, crowd before towering Christmas tree and star and altar

Christmas service in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Andi Graf, courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25: Today is celebrated as Christmas by the vast majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians—including many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. who refer to the holiday as the Nativity. However, some Christians around the world still mark Christmas according to earlier versions of global calendars, pushing many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration. Latest of all, each year, there’s even an ancient Armenian Christmas liturgy in the town of Bethlehem as late as January 18 and 19.

While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph knelt beside their newborn son in a manger. On Christmas Day in most of the Church, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

ORTHODOX CUSTOMS

About half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

Celebrating in January—for a variety of traditional reasons—are Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Mainly this variance involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity.

CHRISTMAS HISTORY

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

From the formative years of the Church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Certain saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. (Wikipedia has details.) For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

Illustration of manger scene with light from above shining on baby Jesus

Photo by Travis, courtesy of Flickr

JESUS:
THE BIRTH OF A SAVIOR

Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. (Find answers for Orthodox Christian questions at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; access Catholic answers at American Catholic.) The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

RECIPES & MORE

The Christmas pudding cooked on Stir-up Sunday is still traditionally served in some countries, but for others, Christmas today is more about cookies and peppermint sweets than old-fashioned fruitcakes and puddings. Interested to learn more?

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

IN THE NEWS

ROCCA ON DICKENS—CBS correspondent Mo Rocca takes us to England for a “tour” of Charles Dickens’ famous tale,  A Christmas Carol. It’s a fun overview for Dickens fans.

NO WHITE CHRISTMAS—Forecasters are united in predicting that the majority of the continental United States won’t see snow on the holiday. Here’s an NBC version of that report.

POPE FRANCIS—Displaying his now world-famous optimism, Pope Francis is making headlines for insisting that he make all of his Christmas-season appearances, despite threats of terrorism. In a talk on December 20, he reminded the world that the Christmas story includes God’s call to compassion for the world’s poorest families. He wasn’t alone. “Jesus himself was a refugee,” Cokie and Steve Roberts reminded readers in this news story.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Posadas Navidenas: Celebrate nine nights of faith, food & community

Las Posadas procession photo via Wikiimedia Commons

Las Posadas procession in the American Southwest in a particularly picturesque setting. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Glasses of white creamy drink sprinkled with cinnamon and spices

Rompope, a traditional Mexican drink similar to eggnog, is served at many Las Posadas celebrations. Photo by David Armano, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16: The lively, colorful and sparkling nights of Las Posadas begin the countdown to Christmas in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the United States tonight, as an ancient tradition is reenacted.

Tantalizing dishes, merry carols and the story of the nativity has been bringing together communities in Mexico for more than 400 years in a beloved tradition that lasts nine nights and ends on Dec. 24. Each night of Las Posadas, a small, candlelit procession travels through a neighborhood, its participants dressed like Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, reenacting the search for a safe place to welcome the infant Jesus. Often, musicians follow the group, as do accompanying members of the community.

Posada, Spanish for “lodging,” or “accommodation,” describes the events of Las Posadas: as the procession stops at designated houses and asks permission to stay, it is prearranged that all homeowners turn away the visitors until the host family is reached. At the home of the host family (or, in some regions, a church), the visitors are welcomed inside, and all present kneel before a nativity. Following prayers, tamales and ponche navideno are served, washed down with rompope, a Mexican drink with a taste similar to eggnog. Children may hit a five- or seven-pointed piñata, often filled with dried fruits, sugar sticks, candies and nuts.

RESOURCES & MORE

For recipes for tamales, rompope and more, check out an article from the Washington Postthis Pinterest page and Lowes.com.

As a learning resource, NBC News suggests Posadas Navidenas as one of five Latino holiday traditions to share with children.

IN THE NEWS: POSADAS IN AMERICA

The sights and sounds of Las Posadas can be heard beyond Mexico, and as this writer describes, Hispanic communities of the United States—and, in particular, in New Mexico—the nine nights before Christmas are a sprinkling of Mexican culture.

In the diverse state of New Mexico, Christmas trees and menorahs accompany multiple La Posada reenactments, some of which even include live animals. This year, the recently-formed nonprofit organization Bellas Artes Sin Fronteras presented “Feliz Navidad: Christmas in Song and Dance” Dec. 12-13, complete with mariachis, folklorico dance, pinatas and La Posada.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Nativity of Christ: Orthodox Christians on Julian calendar observe Christmas

Nighttime with lit old architecture in background crowd of people clapping hands and singing

Coptic Christians from Eritrea and Ethiopia at an Orthodox Christmas celebration at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, January 2012. Photo by Ridvan Yumlu, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7: Cathedral bells ring in Christmas Day across Russia and in several Orthodox Christian communities worldwide, as those who follow the Julian calendar observe the Nativity of Christ. For the Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar, the calendar created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BCE ushers in Christmas on what most of the world views as January 7. From the Patriarch of Russia (who sent greetings to non-Orthodox churches on December 25) to Orthodox communities in Jerusalem, Serbia and Poland, elaborate services will usher in Christmas Day.

Having fasted in preparation for 40 days, it is with overwhelming joy that these Orthodox Christians approach the Nativity of Christ.

For Orthodox Christians, the feast of Christmas is officially called the Nativity in the Flesh of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Services begin on the morning of Christmas Eve with readings of prophesies in the Bible; a fast is kept until sunset, and when the first star appears in the evening, a distinctive meal is consumed. The Christmas Eve evening meal, sometimes referred to as the Holy Night Supper, may consist of 12 vegan dishes—one for each Apostle. After the food has been partaken in, carols are sung and blessings are recited. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America.)

Additional services continue on Christmas Eve and throughout Christmas Day. The following day, Dec. 26, is occasion for honoring the Virgin Mary as the mother of God. Church services on this day are devoted to Mary, as part of the Nativity.

Recent studies in Russia have shown that only 6 percent of Russians had planned to celebrate Christmas on December 25, and that approximately 87 percent of Orthodox believers—72 percent of the general population—will mark Christmas on January 7. According to polls, most celebrants will observe Christmas with their families, at home. (Tass Russian News Agency has the story.) This year, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned government officials from taking a lengthy holiday for Christmas, stating that the paid time for employees cannot be afforded. (Read more from Yahoo! Finance.) While Russian companies and government officials are typically permitted time off between January 1 and 12, many will be limited to keeping Christmas celebrations within a couple of days.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian

Advent Sunday: Candles, pudding, Christmas joy on ‘Stir-Up Sunday’

Purple candle lit on Advent Wreath with Christmas tree in background

A first candle is lit on the Advent Wreath today. Photo courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 1: Western Christians enter the season of Advent today, waiting in joyful anticipation for the coming of Jesus: today is Advent Sunday. Churches and families across America typically will light a first candle today in the Advent wreath, marking the weeks until Christmas. Some churches also are adding special St. Nicholas Day programs this week, to remind children that the roots of the Santa Claus legends spring from an actual Christian saint.

Christmas pudding from a boxSTIR-UP SUNDAY: Did you know that some churches also use the informal phrase Stir-Up Sunday? The phrase refers to the inspiration of the Advent season and comes from a 16th-Century Book of Common Prayer reading for the day: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” But in the Victorian era, this was the day when British families gathered in the kitchen to stir up the Christmas pudding. Sometimes families would pop a coin into the mix as well—so that whoever happened to get that coin in a scoop of the finished pudding would have good luck. Unfortunately, with the … ahem, the advent of ready-made Christmas puddings, a national survey in the UK revealed that most children these days have never gathered with their parents to stir up a from-scratch pudding. (Read much more about The Flavors of Faith in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book.)

Remember that Eastern Christians began their annual Nativity Fast in prayerful preparation for Christmas back on November 15!

For Western Christianity, the Advent season consists of four Sundays, all of which are marked with a candle on the traditional Advent Wreath. Many church groups offer inspirational resources:

CATHOLIC: Catholic Culture offers a prayer for the blessing of the Advent Wreath, recipes for plum pudding and fruit cake, and instructions for a Jesse Tree. Also, the readings for today are at the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

UNITED METHODIST: This year, the United Methodist Church has posted six sets of meditations for the weeks of Advent.

EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH in AMERICA: The ELCA has an easy-to-download-and-print set of readings and reflections for lighting the Advent candles.

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (USA): The Presbyterian Church has a colorful PDF with Advent readings.

ANGLICANS ONLINE: This isn’t a denominational website, but Anglicans Online has a very extensive Advent resources list of links.

Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches use violet-colored vestments and décor during Advent; the color is changed to rose on the third Sunday of Advent, or Guadete Sunday. The Advent season officially ends on the evening of December 24.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian