Advent: Folk Customs
The folk customs of Advent reflect the anticipation and joy that characterize the weeks preceding Christmas in many countries. In many lands NATIVITY SCENES are constructed and displayed. Advent may also be a favorite time of year to attend special Christmas concerts and performances. Many customs connected with the season feature the lighting of Advent CANDLES. Indeed, the candle has become a symbol of the season. Some Christians fashion and display JESSE TREES and CHRISMON TREES in observance of Advent. Others attend special church services, such as the Anglican CERE-MONY OF LESSONS AND CAROLS. The Advent WREATH keeps adults focused on the spiritual message of Advent. The Advent CALENDAR offers children a toy to help them count the days until Christmas. Other children’s customs include writing letters to the child Jesus or SANTA CLAUS (see also CHILDREN’S LETTERS) and participating in the Hispanic folk play called Las POSADAS, in which children and adults recreate the Holy Family’s search for a place to spend the night in BETHLEHEM.
Frauentragen, or "woman carrying,” is a German Advent custom which closely resembles Las Posadas. Children carry a picture or figurine representing the Virgin MARY to a neighborhood home. Once there, they sing or enact a brief scene from the Nativity story, say a prayer, and place the picture or figurine near the family crucifix. The children return for the image the following evening and carry it to a new home. In this way they act out Mary and JOSEPH’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve the children carry Mary back to the church, where she takes her place in the Nativity scene. Musical folk plays were once a popular Advent custom in Germany. Known as Herbergsuchen, or "search for the inn,” this folk drama also reenacted Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem. The play ended happily with the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable.
In Latin America and central Europe the nine days before Christmas take on a special character. In Latin America many people participate in a popular novena in honor of the Christ child. A novena is a series of special religious services or private devotions held on nine consecutive days. In Europe the nine days before Christmas were sometimes called the "Golden Nights,” as many of the religious observances and popular celebrations that characterized the period occurred after dark.