Why Pink?

If you celebrate Advent with an Advent wreath—whether at home, in church, or both—your child is certain to ask you a question today:

“Why pink?”

The origin of the pink candle can be found in the Church’s other purple season: Lent.

Lent is the oldest season in the liturgical calendar. It began as a preparatory fast for catechumens (converts to Christianity) prior to Easter baptisms. As other feasts joined Easter in the calendar, additional preparatory fasts were established through common practice. One of these was the Nativity Fast, a forty day period proceeding Christmas that paralleled the forty days of Lent.

The Nativity Fast is still part of the eastern liturgical calendar followed by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. But in the west, the fast lessened in both length and severity over time, evolving into the four-week season of Advent that we know today.

So why the pink candle? Bear with me just a bit longer.

The fourth Sunday of Lent—Laerte Sunday—falls around the middle of Lent, and is traditionally a day in which the penitential nature of the season is lightened a bit. To signify this lightening, the clergy wore rose (or pink) vestments on that day. The Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—falls at a similar midpoint, and before long clergy wore rose on that day too. The color fits the theme of the day (“Rejoice!”), and, besides, why buy a nice set of vestments only to wear them once a year?

The Advent wreath, meanwhile, grew out of a Germanic tradition. The color of the candles weren’t fixed, but over time became purple to match the color of the season. Since the liturgical color in the churches changed to rose on Gaudete Sunday, it follows that the third candle would become pink as well.

That’s the grown-up answer, but try telling that story to your kids and they’ll fall asleep. So here’s the kids’ version:

“We’re happy that Christmas is less than two weeks away and the pink candle symbolizes that joy.”

But kids always have more questions:

“Then why isn’t the fourth candle pink too? Won’t we be happier next week when Christmas is even closer?”

At this point, revert to the grown-up answer. Your child will lose interest by the end of the first paragraph and you wont have to finish.

And that is a reason to “rejoice!”

December 16

And a bonus link for yesterday:

December 15

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.


Waning moon

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day by John Donne (1572-1631). At the time Donne wrote this poem, the Winter Solstice fell on December 13th according to the Julian Calendar:

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

The traditional combination of solstice festival and Christian feast day is still kept in Scandinavian countries, resulting the the perilous ritual depicted in this video (via You Tube):

December 13

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

Two Candles

Two lit candles in darkness

Tonight, many Christians around the world will light two candles on their Advent wreaths to celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent.

Tonight, many Jews around the world will light two candles on their Hanukkah menorahs to celebrate the Second Night of Hanukkah.

A similar gesture commemorating different holidays, and an unusual coincidence of two calendars that reminds us what unites us. Despite our differences, we are cousins: both descended from the same ancestral religion and both worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Like two candles, both lit by the same fire. The first continues to burn even as the second is lit, and both of them together burn more brightly that either one would alone.

Another reminder of our shared tradition: the words of the Prophet Isaiah that served as the Introit of the Mass in many Catholic parishes today:

People of Zion behold, the Lord is coming to save all nations; and the Lord shall cause you to hear his majestic voice for the joy of your heart.

Followed the words of Psalm 80:

O Shepherd of Israel hear us, you who lead Joseph like a flock.

And while the psalm quote stops there, the common lighting of candles tonight brings another verse of Psalm 80 to mind:

Restore us, O God of Hosts, show us the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.

A candle-lighting prayer Christians and Jews can share tonight. A prayer for continuing reconciliation after almost two-thousand years of bloodshed.

December 9

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

The Armor of Light

Advent candle

The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent from the Book of Common Prayer, and my favorite candle-lighting prayer:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A magnificent take on Romans 13:12 and a perfect summary of Advent. Light in the midst of darkness, immortality in the midst of mortality, and a humble birth in a stable contrasted with the promise of a glorious return. This isn’t just my favorite Advent prayer, it’s one of my favorite prayers from any season. I won’t say it today in church—the Catholic Church prays a different set of collects during Advent—but I will say it tonight as I light the first candle and the first glimmer of light breaks through the darkness.

And the darkness will not overcome it.

I may not get to say my favorite prayer in church today, but I hope to sing one of my favorite hymns. A classic for the First Sunday of Advent (via YouTube):

December 2

Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.