For Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are a special time called Advent (from the Latin for “to come”), a time spent anticipating the birth of the Son of God. Choosing this date to honor this moment was not accidental. For centuries, people had been eagerly anticipating the Winter Solstice and the arrival of the Sun at the same time of the year. Whether waiting for the birth of a divine child or the rebirth of the Sun, this is a time of anticipation in the darkness of winter.
Different customs help Christians count the days until Christmas: Advent calendars have a new little window to be opened each day; adding a piece of straw every day to the manger in the nativity scene; and the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.
You can also create your own customs to mark the four Sundays before Christmas or Winter Solstice. I inherited one of my favorite Advent customs from my friend, Helen Farias, who wrote stories based on winter gods and goddesses. She suggested reading one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas while sipping on warming holiday drinks, nibbling on traditional holiday cookies, and lighting the next candle on the Advent wreath.
November 27 is the first Sunday in Advent this year. Saturday, November 26 (Indie Day in the American calendar—support your local businesses!) is also known as Wreath-Making Saturday. I like to bundle up and walk in the crisp air to forage for wreath-making materials in my neighborhood. Often I find downed evergreen branches (we usually have a big windstorm right around this time). Sometimes I gently cut branches from trees in the nearby woods after making an offering of cornmeal or saying a prayer. When I return home, I bring along the scent of winter. I use red ribbon to wrap the branches around my circular foam wreath base, then place four candles of different colors (to represent the seasons of the upcoming year) into the wreath to remind me that light is returning. An appropriate song for the candle lighting ceremony is “Light Is Returning” by Charlie Murphy and Jami Sieber.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”