Years ago I started researching a book about celebrating Advent. I learned so many things along the way! Here are ten of my favorite unusual discoveries about Advent.
1) Plum pudding has zero plums in it and sits in your cupboard for five weeks!
In England and Ireland, plum pudding is an extremely popular dessert served on Christmas Day. Although called “plum pudding”, plums are actually never used. This is because the word “plum” in Victorian times referred to raisins. So you’ll find raisins and other dried fruits but no plums. The other thing that I did not know about plum pudding is that it is made right at the beginning of Advent.
This means that by the time you eat it, it has been sitting in your pantry for five weeks? Five weeks everybody! Good thing it gets doused with brandy right before it’s served!
2) St. Francis of Assissi came up with the first Nativity Scene.
Ever drive through the live nativity scenes that a local church puts on? Well, you owe a big thank you to St. Francis of Assissi. That’s right, the animal loving, father of the Fransiscan order of monks, St. Francis of Assissi. In 1223, St. Francis came up with the idea of having a live nativity scene with real people and real animals in his hometown of Greccio, Italy. The idea of a nativity scene in one’s town quickly spread throughout Christendom and is one of our most enduring Advent traditions.
3) In Brazil, Christians have a tradition called “Los Pastores” or “The Shepherds.”
Like many other Christians around the world, Brazilian Christians attend folk plays depicting the story of the birth of baby Jesus. Only in Brazil, there’s a bit of a kick…baby Jesus gets kidnapped. In the Brazilian version, instead of male shepherds, the shepherds are females and visit baby Jesus along with someone they don’t know. The rest of the play is filled with drama, cliff hangers and suspense when the stranger kidnaps baby Jesus.
P.S. – If you are worried about the outcome of baby Jesus, he is safely rescued by the end of the play!
4) St. Lucy was a real person!
On December 13, Christians all over the world celebrate St. Lucy’s Day. Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia was a young girl who grew up in Italy in the 4th century. She is one of the earliest Christian martyrs. She was killed by the Romans in 304BC because of her religious beliefs. St.Lucy was born into a rich family but desired to dedicate her whole life to God and to give all of her worldly possessions to the poor. She brought food to persecuted Christians that were hiding in the Roman catacombs. The catacombs were dark and in order to find your way around, you needed to carry candles. St. Lucy wanted to bring as much food as possible to the people but needed to keep both of her hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. That’s why you always see St. Lucy depicted with a wreath of candles on her head.
5) Traditionally, Advent was always a time to focus on the poor.
Although the weeks leading up to Christmas are all about the rush to get our Christmas gifts purchased and wrapped, Advent is supposed to be a time to remember those less fortunate than us. Advent is all about preparing our hearts and meditating on the birth of Christ. Since Jesus’ family had very little in life and no place to rest their weary heads, we remember and work hard to bless all those that are less fortunate than us. It is a time to collect alms for the poor and to stretch out our hands in a spirit of charity to bless and to heal those around us.
6) KFC for Christmas
In Japan, Christians aren’t familiar with turkey as a meal on Christmas Day so they buy KFC fried chicken instead! The popularity of KFC fried chicken for Christmas Day is so great that orders are placed starting at the beginning of Advent!
7) Summer fruits in the South
Advent is in the summer time in South Africa, so many of their traditional dishes revolve around summer fruits like watermelon and cantaloupes.
8) Father Christmas is getting old!
In China, on St. Nicholas Eve, Christian children hang up muslin stockings that are specially made so “Dun Che Lao Ren”, or “Christmas Old Man,” can fill them with wonderful gifts.
9) Think spring is for Spring Cleaning?
Well, it is traditional for many Christians around the world to clean their homes from top to bottom on the days of Advent leading up to Christmas. That way there is no work to be done on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Everyone can just relax and celebrate!
10) There is no “right” way to construct an Advent wreath!
Norwegians use a wreath made of straw, Danes make one out of braided bread, and some people use simple brass or wooden forms. The wreaths can be hung from the ceiling or placed on a table. In Venezuela, they even have an Advent wreath in the classroom and each student is able to bring the wreath home for a night.
Bonus! Here are two extras just for fun!
11) St. Nicholas arrives by boat in the Netherlands.
12) In Southern Germany they have what is known as “Knocking Nights” during Advent. Children go door to door in their neighborhood making lots of noise. At each house, they are then given candy or sweets. It’s like Halloween all over again but with no scary costumes!
Advent really is such a beautiful time of year.
The season helps to recenter us on the things that are the most important in life. It is filled with so many wonderful and fun traditions from around the world. By incorporating some of these traditions, and even more that are found in my book, it heightened the experience of the season for me and my family.
If you’d like to learn more about Advent, I share so much more about the history and meaning of the season in my book, A Thrill of Hope: Celebrating Advent at Home (Revised and Expanded for 2020) [affiliate link].