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Advent Traditions

A burning fire is one of the oldest forms of worship. The energy of fire has always been connected with the sun which brings light and warmth to earth. As the Winter solstice nears we reach for our candles to light up the dark evenings, as we look forward to the sun returning to extend our days.Norse ancestors welcomed the return of the sun god by celebrating Yule - for 24-days they would feast, tell stories, and gather around bonfires. The last night of the festival was called Up-Helly-Aa.
wicker man

'... in that land there were numerous deities which shone with a luster like that of fireflies...' Nihongi Shinto Creation Stories AD 697


Ivy


Evergreens have been used to decorate homes since Pagan times, when they were believed to be a symbol of eternal life. Evergreens were considered magical due to their ability to retain signs of life during winter, and producing berries like holly.
Evergreen plants, like ivy and holly, were brought into the home during the Winter Solstice - a celebration of light and rebirth. Ivy was the symbol of Bacchus - god of wine and merriment.
The holly was traditionally thought to be masculine (prickly and tough) and the ivy feminine (clingy and heart-shaped), bringing balance and harmony, a yin and yang, to the home - also promising fertility to the household.

 

burial chamber and ivy
Ivy grows wild around the burial chamber


It is believed that the first Christmas tree was enjoyed back in the 8th century in Germany. Boniface, an English missionary, introduced a decorated fir tree. Evergreens were originally taken into homes at this time as it was believed they had protective and magical powers by the Pagans, as they remained green during the winter. During the 18th Century decorations for the trees became popular. They were originally white or red decorations symbolising innocence and knowledge, also paper flowers, sweets, candles, gingerbread shapes were used. The first tinsel was made from stretching real silver into long strips.

By the19th century, the Christmas tree tradition had spread to other northern European countries. It was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, who first brought the Christmas tree to the UK. Glass baubles became available and the first electric lights were patented in 1882. Around seven million Christmas trees are grown in the UK each year.

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

We all enjoy a festive Christmas tree - some enjoy looking at the sparkling lights and bright baubles,
and others have been known to climb it!


angel

'Winged Figure' :Thayer (1889)

The word 'angel' is Greek in origin, meaning 'a messenger' or one who is sent. Angels are said to be immortal spirits and are used by artists and poets as symbols of innocence and beauty. They are supernatural beings found in many religions and beliefs.

In Christianity the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary as a messenger to tell her that her child would be the Messiah, and other angels were present to herald the baby's birth on Christmas day.

Some believe we each have guardian angel, a spirit who protects and guides us. This belief was common in Ancient Greek philosophy.

Supernatural winged messengers have been the subject of myth, legend, religion and art for many hundreds of years. They are beautiful, ethereal beings we have come to admire.

If you are lucky you may spot an angel ... look carefully around when you are at a solstice celebration or Glastonbury festival...


mistletoe kiss

Mistletoe

As with other evergreens, like holly and ivy, mistletoe was thought to be a magical plant and was brought in at this time in the winter, to protect the home from evil. The Druids revered the plant and would gather sprigs of mistletoe with a golden sickle, never letting it touch the ground to maintain its power, believing it to be a potent charm. It was once called 'All Heal', and was thought to bring good luck and fertility, and to offer protection from witchcraft.

Farmers would feed a tiny piece of mistletoe to any cow that calved at the New Year to ward off any bad luck. ( Please note : Mistletoe is highly poisonous). A good year for mistletoe meant an abundant farming year, and when mistletoe was scarce boughs of it were kept in the dairy. The old boughs were burnt on the winter solstice fire.
The ancient Scandinavians believed that if enemies met beneath a mistletoe they would 'kiss and make up', which is perhaps where the custom of kissing under mistletoe derives from. The Scandinavian goddess of love, Frigga, is also strongly associated with mistletoe, which provides another link to the custom.

 

 

 

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