For each day, from November 15 until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love, putting it on a calendar that draws on ancient Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany traditions.
In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter. In this age of blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.
Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition.
The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.
Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany. Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana. The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.
On January 6th, the celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus, children dress up as the three magi carrying a star (the Sternsingers) and go singing from house to house. This practice is most popular in Germany and Austria as way of raising awareness and money for global children’s needs, but has been widely practiced in the church since the 16th century. The singers also chalk the lintel or door of each house with the blessing 20+C+M+B+16, which notes the year and carries a double meaning: CMB stands for Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar, the traditional names of the three Magi, and also a house blessing: Christus Mansionem Benedicat (Christ bless this house!). You can read more about this tradition here.
Pulling these four traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully. Here is a PDF version. Please feel free to make copies and share with your friends and church. A version without color is here; a version with larger print and without color is here. If you need any other document versions, please email me at susan(at)contemplativecottage(dot)com.
The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.
Let the Holy Spirit lead!
(a yearly updated post from the archives)