Beyond the War on Christmas: AP serves up an advent story that fails to mention Advent

It’s time for a major-league GetReligion flashback.

It has been a decade since M.Z. “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway wrote a post — a low-key nod to the whole “War on Christmas” school of media coverage — in which she talked about the overlooked religious traditions that, once upon a time, millions of Christians followed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The name of her post back in 2008: “The War on Advent.” Here is MZ’s overture:

Of all the seasons of the church year, the first — Advent — is definitely the one that leaves me feeling most out of touch with my fellow Americans. While everyone else is frantically shopping, decorating, partying, those Christians who mark Advent are in a period of preparation and prayerful contemplation. The disciplines of Advent include confession and repentance, prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting and the singing of the Great O Antiphons and other seasonal hymns. …

The season is marked by millions of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and many other Christians, but not only do you rarely see any media coverage of it, the media actively promotes the secular version. 

Advent ends on Christmas Eve with the beginning of the Christmas season. In America, the end of Advent coincides with the end of the secular Christmas season/shoppingpalooza. Just as my family is putting up Christmas trees and lights and buying gifts for friends and family, much of the rest of America is experiencing the post-Christmas hangover.

This is all true. I thought that back when I was an evangelical Anglican and I feel that way today as an Eastern Orthodox Christian — only we observe Nativity Lent. Yes, I have written about this topic here, here and here (in which I asked Siri for some seasonal info). You get the point.

So what is Advent? Here’s a piece of yet another column I wrote on that. The voice here is the Rev. Timothy Paul Jones, a Baptist who is the author of “Church History Made Easy.

… Jones noted that "Advent ... comes to us from a Latin term that means 'toward the coming.' The purpose of this season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting. As early as the 4th century A.D., Christians fasted during this season. ... By the late Middle Ages, Advent preceded Christmas by 40 days in the Eastern Orthodox Church and by four weeks in western congregations." Advent was then followed by the 12-day Christmas season.

This brings us to an Associated Press story with this rather non-liturgical headline: “Forget the chocolate: Advent calendars go for booze, cheese.

At this point, I am very, very familiar with all of the trends linked to the secularization of “Christmas,” as in the secular Halloween-to-Dec. 25 stampede that has effectively crushed Advent. What this story did was enlighten me about some commercial traditions built on the word “Advent,” if not the spirit behind that word.

What am I talking about? Here is the overture:

NEW YORK (AP) — Advent calendars are hitting the bottle.

The cardboard calendars, typically filled with chocolates, are now being stuffed with cans of beer and bottles of wine. Others have chunks of cheese behind each door.

They’re meant to appeal to nostalgic adults who want to count the days till Christmas with something other than sweets. They’re sold for a limited time, get major social media buzz and tend to sell out quickly.

Many are available in the United States for the first time this year after gaining popularity during the past few holiday seasons in Europe. German grocer Aldi, for instance, says it brought its wine advent calendar to its U.S. stores after selling it in the United Kingdom last year. It also introduced a new cheese one.

Ah, so there is now a secular version of Advent, one centering on candy and booze built into the empty framework of the liturgical season? I didn’t know that. #Bummer.

Yes, there’s more information to share before I get to my main question:

Adult advent calendars fit into an ongoing trend: people who want products and experiences that “let them embrace their inner child,” says Caleb Bryant, a senior beverage analyst at trend-tracking firm Mintel. “Kids don’t need to have all the fun with advent calendars,” he says.

I’m not sure this next part has anything to do with childhood.

GiveThemBeer.com, an online alcohol seller in St. Petersburg, Florida, offered beer calendars last year as an alternative to gift baskets. All 500 sold old out quickly, says Kym Toner, the company’s co-founder. So this year, GiveThemBeer.com introduced a wine one. Both have 12 glass bottles instead of 24, because any more would be too expensive to ship, Toner says.

She expected to sell 1,000 of them each, but so many orders came in at the beginning of November that Toner now expects to sell more than 2,000 each.

“Things have gone crazy,” she says. “You would not believe the demand for boozy advent calendars.”

So here is my question: Does a story of this kind need to give readers a factual definition of "Advent,” something deeper than the reference to counting “the days before Christmas”? Is it OK to assume that secular Americans even know what the word means? Why not tell them, in a sentence or two?

Note that, in this AP story — a business-page feature perhaps — the name of the season has even gone lower-case, as in “advent.” At this point, is Christmas going to be “christmas”?

War on Advent, indeed.

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