I just disembarked from my first cruise and I'm in lovely Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. After a week in gently (or not-so-gently) rolling waters, I'm pretty happy to be on dry land. It was great to be out of communication for a week, but I missed my newspapers. So while I sit here waiting for my flight, I'm devouringtThis weekend's Wall Street Journal, which included some fantastic articles. But one article, while terribly fascinating, had some holes. At the end of the Review section, there was a piece about the history of Advent calendars. I couldn't be happier to see this topic taken up. I wish newspapers covered the liturgical calendar even just a tiny bit more, but covering how the Christian calendar is celebrated at home is even better (one of my favorite blogs does just that here).
Just before Advent started, my girls and I trekked on foot to a local liturgical supply store where we stocked up on Advent wreaths, candles, calendars, and the like. One of our babysitters even made Advent garlands with the girls. Each day they can tear off an additional ring so they can see how close they're getting to Christmas. We also put out some purple decorations at home. We'll decorate for Christmas here now that we've hit Gaudete Sunday.
The story begins in a promising enough fashion:
Americans can thank Germans for a holiday tradition besides the modern Christmas tree: the Advent calendar, a card counting down to Christmas in which children open one "window" a day, finding a picture, a poem or story, a sweet or a small gift.
Through the description of a new exhibition in Germany, we get an interesting history of the calendar and how it mirrors the nation's past. Gerhard Lang is the father of the Advent calendar and he got the idea from his late 19th-century childhood. His publishing company invented the perforated doors used on Advent calendars -- but they neglected to procure a patent. Whoopsie! We're told, by the by, that "Advent begins around the end of November or the beginning of December."
But what we're never told is what the heck Advent is. It would be nice to have a discussion of the general part of the church year and its importance to Christians. The season marks Jesus' humble first coming to Bethlehem, the continual coming of Christ in Word and Sacrament, and the look forward to Christ's return. It's pretty deep. But even if we don't get into a heady discussion, how about just a mention that Advent is the season that begins the Christian year, consists of four Sundays, and refers to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power. Just something about how for Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of Jesus Christ.
It's not that there's no religion. Take this portion:
After the First World War, Advent calendars were "demilitarized," and docile animals replaced drawings of cannons and toy solders. But "Hitler quickly co-opted the calendars," says Ms. Peschel. Nazi symbols were substituted for Christian ones: swastika-clad children building snowmen and Nazi soldiers enshrined within Advent wreaths.
Knowing that Hitler was a general in the War on Christmas -- replacing the religious symbols -- is fascinating.
After the War, the Christian symbols returned and in 1953, Newsweek published a photo of those cute Eisenhower grandchildren playing with their Advent calendar. The War on Christmas continued in Germany, though, where East Germans were informed that Christmas was to be an atheist holiday and punishing publishing houses that tried to retain the Christian element to Advent calendars.
It's a great, if brief, article. But the failure to explain Advent in any way is a notable hole.