The second candle lit on my advent wreath. I’ve had this wreath for 23 years now, and can remember the exact day I bought it. I was pregnant, expecting my first baby, and attending the last official event I would ever attend as a full time teacher: Founders’ Day Service at the private school I taught at, held every last Friday in October at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.
I was rather heavily pregnant: seriously, from six months onwards with all my pregnancies, I had all the grace and elegance of a hippopotamus and about as much patience. The Founders’ Day service was a traditional occasion: the whole school from Reception up to Sixth formers were compelled to be there, in uniform, and prepared to sing, to sit and to suffer a sermon from whomever was talking. I don’t remember who. I just remember shifting awkwardly from side to side as my little Visitor chose just that moment to push rather heavily on my bladder and make me squeak.
It’s a good job that many mothers and a good many fathers love their children absolutely before they even make an appearance. Being uncomfortable, unable to sit without a buzzing sensation below or walk without pelvic pain became normal to me. But this little bundle made all the pain, all the performance worth it when he arrived, 10 days late, in February.
Back to my advent ring, though. As I slid quietly from the seat and made my way waddling to the toilets, I took in the glories of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. I sloped into the toilet, did the necessary and slowly moved back, enjoying the relief of not having my little visitor turning somersaults inside (movement always sent him to sleep). The windows of the shop attracted me, and I saw the iron ring, cross quartered and with five candle holders, displayed.
Circles of greenery, often accompanied by candles, have been a part of midwinter or Yule tradition since forever. Ancient Germanic tribes had a tradition of using wreathes with candles to symbolise the turning year, the everlasting nature of time and the passage of the world from Darkness into Light. It’s a feature of Nordic tradition as well, although many learn of it as a Christian tradition because, like many things we do and celebrate at Christmas, the early church priests used it to attract locals, or the locals brought it with them like a link between what we did last year when we were pagans and what we do now as Christians. Ask a learned Pagan and you can have a long lecture on how many traditions claimed and named as Christian date from Pagan times. All I feel is that the overlaying of new interpretations onto original ones is a tale as old as time, and still happening now, so traditional to you can mean anything. I also like when the different users of each tradition are open to the others having it. I hope there will never be an advent wreath war, with white-cloaked neopagans taking on the purple-vestmented priests of Advent in a battle to see who can claim total control of the eternal ring of fire.
I’d never had an advent wreath before, only seen them in school and Church but, mindful that my little burden would be a baby proper the next year, it struck me then that the adoption of new Christmas traditions that suited both Mr Hygge Jem, myself and our growing family was now up to me, and that a very visible, tangible sign of time passing might well be a good idea, especially once the advent chocolate for the day was eaten. The wreath, and a set of six candles, came home with me that day. Six candles, because there were four purple ones, one pink one and a white one. There are alternative arrangements of candles for advent wreaths, from five red or purple and one white one, all purple or all red ones to all white candles.
I chose the purple and pink that year, as I have done other years since, because I liked the significance of the pink candle. In Catholic traditions the four Sundays of Advent all represent different aspects of the Christmas story, the biblical story or simply expressions of emotions. Over the years I’ve explained (very simply, when my children were in the early years) what each candle stood for: The Prophets, the Patriarchs, Mary, John the Baptist in one version, while the candles stood for Faith, Hope, Love and Repentance in another. In my own advent journey this year, they stand for Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Four qualities I think we need as a world at the moment. The pink candle stands for Joy, on the third Sunday, and we’ll talk about that next week.
And so to today: the second Sunday of Advent and Love.
In the Bible, Love features a lot. Love your neighbour, love your God, love the world and care for it. We’re told that love is the reason for Jesus and his life, that God so Loved the World that he sent his Son… Love is at the heart of Christianity.
It’s at the heart of other religions as well. Muslims learn that Allah will love them if they do good, act rightly and love him. In Sikhism Love means love for God and his creation, in Hinduism love can be enlightened love for all, or earthly love for one or oneself, and in many polytheistic religions throughout time there has always been a god or goddess to represent love.
Love lies behind many modern movements and charities. Love for the environment underpins Greenpeace, love for children lies at the heart of NSPCC, love of animals unites RSPCA and RSPB in their work to keep the countryside and the inhabitants of it safe. We love easily, often and proclaim our love on heart stickers. I *heart* NY, I *heart* Liverpool, I *heart* any place on earth. I love this programme, I love this film… I love this music. We use it often, and yet we know that what we feel there isn’t real love.
It’s ironic that for a quality so loved and demanded by so many religions and organisations, we seem sometimes to lack it. It’s easy to point at the world today and say ‘That is a symbol of hate’ or ‘These words are hate speech’. Perhaps the modern world is naturally negative at the moment. Perhaps we’re too tribal to see past our own circle and love others. Or perhaps it’s just easier to love from afar without feeling the need to make our love real. Because real love is messy, complicated and often hurtful. It demands trust and putting ourselves at risk. In the right circumstances that is awe inspiring, powerfully creative and leaves both us and the recipient of our love reeling with the grace and wonder of what love… true love…. pure love, not lust or self-love…. can do. Giving love, freely, gracefully and with a full heart…. well, that takes time, and a lot of wisdom.
Daily Read: Christmas Charity: How Best to help Those In Need from the Independent
Daily Book: The Alternative Advent Calendar by Gillian Monks. A calendar that positively encourages you to give back in love. If you haven’t already got this book, my advice is buy it and start from today. Every day has a small act or thought to do that takes very little time but will benefit both you and the recipient from feeding the birds to sharing a hug to sending a card to a stranger. Small acts of great love.
Self Care Act for The Day: Find someone in your bubble and have a hug with them. Try and make it last more than 20 seconds (with their permission) to boost the natural endorphins that a hug causes.
If you live alone or, like me, have young adult children who would run a mile rather than hug you, practise love in a different way. Can you do something charitable? Perhaps collect some food for the food bank, gather up some unwanted clothes or books, or set up a donation to a charity of your choice. Do every step with the thought of love for the eventual recipient at the front of your mind. This is you, giving back love freely, with all your heart.
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted or bought by me with my everyday wages.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
A Self Care Christmas: A short ebook on keeping Christmas simple and making sure it doesn’t overwhelm.
Celebrating a Contagious Christmas: Available in ebook and paperback, it’s about making this year a festival of Hope.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little rhings in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human.
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, however we get to celebrate it this year, and a Happy, Healthy and Simple New Year.