Saturday, December 11, 2010


In December, Jeff and I observe both Advent and Chanukah. In short, we set things on fire a lot. On the windowsill, there's the menorah. On the coffee table, there's the Advent wreath.

What strikes me about both of these is how process-oriented they are. When you see a picture of a menorah, it's always the eighth night will all the candles blazing. But it spends most of the week partially lit, building up to the finale. An Advent wreath, likewise, is in a perpetually lopsided state. On the first Sunday of Advent, you burn one candle. Next Sunday, two, until it's Christmas Eve and all four (or five, depending on how you do it*) are lit. At any time, some of the candles have been burnt more than others. They are different heights, even when they're all lit.

Now, we say, I want it now. But both of these seasons are not about instant gratification. They're about duration.

*Yes, I know my candles aren't pink and purple, nor are they properly in a wreath. But this is how my Danish host mother did it, and it sure is easier to find white candles.


Lucas Sanders said...

A piece of slightly-interesting trivia: the old English practice was to use 4 blue candles for the Advent wreath, not Rome's purple and pink. The British changed en masse to match Rome a bit before the Reformation; in the last few decades a minority have changed back to blue. (A noticeable minority of U.S.-based Episcopal churches have chosen blue in recent years, too.)

Julia Wise said...

I thought it was odd that the candles didn't match the normal color of the season. And I recently learned that my family always lit them in the wrong order, anyway. Danes normally use red or white, and hang them from the ceiling if possible, which is cool but inconvenient.

Cora said...

For what it's worth, I never knew anything but white Advent candles until I went to the Episcopal church. Our Advent wreath always had four white candles in the ring, and the Christmas Eve candle in the middle was red.