Advent traditions around the world

By Forrest Brown, CNN

Wreaths, candles and calendars. They are sure signs of Advent for many Christian groups around the world.

The word Advent comes from Latin aventus, which means an arrival or a visit.

Advent is the beginning of the spiritual year for these churches, and we observe the four Sundays before Christmas. In 2021, Advent begins on Sunday November 28. Each Sunday has a different spiritual theme and often involves the ceremonial lighting of an Advent candle in anticipation of Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

As with many aspects of any religion, Advent customs and practices vary from place to place.

Here are some traditions of Advent and Christmas in general in various countries of the world. We also include possible places of worship to visit if you are nearby. Keep in mind that church services and other gatherings may be limited or canceled, especially in Europe, where they face another wave of Covid-19:

Austria

Austria is the birthplace of one of the most beloved Christmas carols, “Silent Night”. The hymn is called “Stille Nacht” in German (the native language of the Austrians), and it was written during the Christmas of 1818, according to the German website.

The English version of the anthem we sing today has some variations from the original, but anyone who visits Austria and attends a performance should immediately recognize the calming sound.

The picturesque city of Salzburg, known as ‘The Sound of Music’, has traditionally many musical performances of the sacred hymn.

House of worship: Salzburg Cathedral is an emblematic symbol of this Austrian city. Built on the same location as two previous churches, the foundation of the current Baroque structure with its two imposing towers was laid in 1641. (Kapitelplatz 2, PO Box 62, 5010 Salzburg, Austria; +43 662 65 901 515)

China

China might not immediately spring to mind when you think of Advent, but roughly 5.2% of the population of 1.4 billion is Christian.

Chinese Christians light up their homes with colorful paper lanterns during Advent, and you might find red paper pagodas cut out and placed in windows. They follow many traditions that were brought by Western missionaries.

A new Christmas tradition is the gift of apples, sometimes sold in stores wrapped in colored paper.

House of worship: In Shanghai, St. Ignatius Cathedral is modeled after Western-style architecture and was built in 1906. It was damaged during China’s Cultural Revolution, but has since been restored. In Shanghai, it’s called the Xujiahui Catholic Church (No. 156 Puxi Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai 200000, China)

Croatia

On 86% of people in this Balkan Peninsula country are Roman Catholics, and Advent is a big part of religious life here. For some Croats, preparations for Christmas actually begin before Advent, November 25, which is Sveta Kata (Feast of Saint Catherine).

Prva adventska nedjelja (or Advent Sunday) is the fourth Sunday before Christmas and the first of the four Advent wreath candles is lit.

Residents of the capital, Zagreb, traditionally enjoys going to outdoor wooden stalls selling handcrafted souvenirs, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. The part of this activity that will take place throughout the Advent season will depend on the evolution of the pandemic.

On Christmas Eve, Croats eat “bakalar” (a kind of dried cod).

House of worship: Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption is the tallest building in Croatia, and this neo-Gothic structure houses what is considered one of the most splendid organs in the world. (10000 Zagreb, Croatia; +385 1 481 4727)

Germany

Families across Germany will set up an Advent wreath with four candles, one for each Advent week. They can gather around the wreath every Sunday to sing Christmas carols and light another candle.

Fly, which is similar to fruit cake, is one of the oldest Christmas candy traditions in Germany. And Advent hosts can serve cookies which are spread around their crowns.

House of worship: Asam Church is far from the largest in Munich, but it is perhaps the most ornate. One of the reasons for its size – two brothers originally built it as a private chapel. Another plus: the small Baroque masterpiece could also be less crowded. (Sendlinger Str. 32, 80331 Munich, Germany; +49 89 2368 7989)

Hungary

With the crown and the Advent calendars filled with little chocolates, another Hungarian tradition during Advent are matins.

It is a daily Mass celebrated every dawn from the first Sunday of Advent to the first day of Christmas. You can hear it called the angelic mass or the golden mass.

An Advent classic in Hungary is the beigli. It’s a rolled crust traditionally filled with poppy seeds or nuts.

Hungarians are a music-loving people, and various Christmas concerts are traditionally held around the capital Budapest and other towns and villages.

House of worship: St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest and a newcomer by historical European standards, consecrated in 1905 after decades of construction. In addition to the impressive neoclassical architecture, the views from the top are said to be spectacular. On November 28, he hold a special prayer time for the victims of the Covid. (Szent Istvan ter 1, Pest, Budapest 1051, Hungary)

Mexico

Advent in Mexico brings the religious ceremonies known as Las Posadas (Hostels in Spanish.) This nine-day celebration of Mary and Joseph’s journey takes place from December 16 to 24.

Every evening in towns and cities of Mexico, a child dressed as an angel leads a procession, usually made up of children. They go to selected homes, where they are refused entry but are often given refreshments.

This custom is also followed in parts of the United States.

House of worship: Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Latin America. Its construction lasted more than two centuries, resulting in a mixture of architectural styles. (Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de la Constitución, Centro, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5510 0440)

Poland

For deeply Catholic Poland, Advent brings prayer, fasting and spiritual preparation for Christmas, according to the Alliance of Polish Women of America. People stay indoors on long, dark evenings making Christmas tree decorations and handmade gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and baking other delicacies for the holidays ahead.

Poles traditionally attend morning masses called roraty. It is still dark when they start. Participants light candles during mass, symbolizing the coming light of day and salvation.

People also set up outdoor kiosks in town and village squares, decorated on the Christmas theme, where they will distribute candies, small gifts and cards.

Krakow marks the first Sunday of Advent by decorating the beautiful Rynek Square with lights, branches and garlands.

House of worship: Construction of St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow began in the late 1200s and was consecrated in 1320. The magnificent basilica has undergone many renovations since then. Its asymmetrical towers make a memorable sight. (Plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Krakow, Poland; +48 12 422 05 21)

UK

While many Advent and Christmas traditions date back centuries in the UK, Christingles is a relatively new observance here. It started with the Moravians in Germany in the 1740s, but was not celebrated in the UK until the late 1960s.

The word can mean both a symbolic element and a service. You do Christingles an orange, which you decorate with a candle, paperwork, and candy.

Christingles service may involve prayers, readings, and songs. It also serves as a fundraiser for children’s charities. It can take place from the start of Advent until Candlemas, but Christmas Eve is a popular time to hold a service.

House of worship: Salisbury Cathedral is one of the UK’s finest Gothic cathedrals and boasts Britain’s tallest spire. Its first stones were laid in 1220. From November 26, the Anglican Cathedral still had Advent services scheduled. (6 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EJ, UK; +44 1722 555120)

Fast Nativity

Eastern Orthodox churches mark the pre-Christmas period with a Fast Nativity, which runs from November 15 to December 24 according to the revised Julian calendar, which follows the Gregorian calendar that most countries currently use.

For Orthodox churches that still follow the old traditional Julian calendar, these dates are November 28 through January 6.

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This article, first published in 2018, has been updated for 2021.


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