13 December 2010



Advent and Christmas Traditions and Customs

D. Fermín Labarga.
University of Navarra

Advent and, especially, Christmas time are a time of the year full of festivities, celebrations and rites of great popular significance. We are going to review these two liturgical cycles extending up to the feast of the Lord's Day, February 2, presentation , to outline the many manifestations of popular piety that take place during this time, about two months.

Advent is the liturgical season of preparation for the birth of Christ which is celebrated at Christmas. It consists of four weeks, which include the four Sundays before December 25. 

At the beginning of Advent, on December 6, is the commemoration of St. Nicholas, a saint closely related to childhood, since it is not in vain that in ancient times it was the school feast par excellence, since the saint had become the patron saint of the schoolchildren, understood as the members of the schola or choir. His cult spread extraordinarily, especially since his relics were transferred to Bari in 1087. St. Nicholas is the first stage of the popular figure of Santa Claus (a corruption of his Latin name Sanctus Nicolaus) or Santa Claus of the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon tradition, later widely spread worldwide.

The last eight days of Advent are highly symbolic because of the proximity of the birth of Jesus. The liturgy celebrates them especially, in what are called "major Advent Fairs", which begin on December 17. The Magnificat antiphon of the Vespers begins every day with an exclamation and an invocation to Christ: O Lord..., O Root..., O Son of David...! From these antiphons has its origin the invocation of the Virgin of Hope or of the O, whose celebration takes place on December 18, the most important Marian feast of the Visigothic liturgy. Precisely, according to Gómez Tabarena, from the celebration of the fairs of the O, also called oleríasderives from the Olentzero, a figure that announces Christmas in the Basque area.

Popular piety celebrated, and continues to celebrate, these last days before Christmas with the custom of the "posadas posadas. This celebration, also known as the jornaditasis of special importance in Latin America, especially in Mexico, and has also been preserved among the traditions of cloistered convents for women. Another very popular Mexican tradition is the pastorelas. In this same line, it is necessary to refer to the soundtrack of Christmas, which is none other than the traditional Christmas carols.

Although the Christmas tree has been introduced in recent times, the main decorative Christmas manifestation has always been the installation of the crib, nativity scene or manger. Its purpose is to graphically recall the original event of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ in the portal of Bethlehem. Its origin can be traced back to St. Francis of Assisi and has given rise to spectacular artistic manifestations, also notable for their ethnographic value.

The feast of Christmas was made to coincide with the ancient feast of the birth of the feast of the birth of the undefeated Sun (dies natalis Solis invicti), which was celebrated on December 25 to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, since it was notorious that the day began to lengthen and the night to diminish. This assimilation of the feast was possible because, according to the Fathers, and taking its cue from the Benedictus (Lk. 1:78), Christ is the true Sun that rises from above.

The liturgy of this day is very rich. Since ancient times it has had a vigil and three different forms for the celebration of Mass: midnight, dawn and day. This midnight mass is the one that, extended later to the whole West, is popularly called the Midnight Mass. It was soon the scene of religious theatrical events, such as the song of the sibylThe Mass was soon followed by religious theater, such as the singing of the sibyl, especially in the Mediterranean area, or the annunciation to the shepherds. Also in this Mass was sung, and can still be sung, the kalendatransferred from the nocturnal official document . In many places it was customary for shepherds' choirs to sing in the streets and in the temples, also performing dances, which in many cases were forbidden as disrespectful.

Christmas is a very rich time, not only from a liturgical point of view, but also in terms of the celebration of popular rites. Both in the days before and after Christmas Day it was frequent, and in some places it still is, that groups of children, young and old go through the streets asking for the aguinaldo. There are even typical songs for this purpose.

Within the Christmas season, one of the richest festivities from the point of view of ritual and folklore is December 28th, the day of the Holy Innocents. Still today it is customary on that day to give the inocentadaAlthough the tradition is gradually being lost, as well as some of the celebrations typical of this feast, such as the bishop's day and other similar ones. In Navarre, the representation of the Child king of the faba bean. According to Heers it is a transmutation of the feast of the bishop in the courtly sphere.

January 1 is the octave of Christmas. During the modern centuries, the central element of the feast of January 1 was the circumcision and naming of Jesus, according to Hebrew custom. The feast thus came to join the growing movement of devotion to the Name of Jesus, manifested, for example, in the proliferation of carvings of the Child Jesus, appearing both in private homes and in female cloisters. On the other hand, it was almost inevitable that the fact of the imposition of the name of Jesus would cease to be related to baptism. Thus, for example, in Palencia the ceremony of the Baptism of the Child.

From the popular point of view, the last great feast within the strictly liturgical time of Christmas is that of the Epiphany, or adoration of the Magi. This feast in the Hispanic area has always been related to the custom of giving gifts, in memory of those that Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar offered to Baby Jesus. Since ancient times, small theatrical representations took place on this feast in which the Gospel story of the adoration of the Magi was staged. Thus arose the The Magi's Auto de los Reyes Magosand, practically in the 20th century, the popular custom of the Cavalcade on the afternoon of January 5.

The feast of February 2 is also part, although not liturgically, of the popular Christmas cycle, with which it closes. It is traditional the procession with the candles (from where the denomination of the Candelaria comes from) and, in some places, to present the newborn children to the Virgin. Finally, it only remains to indicate that on this day it was customary to dismantle the crib, as it is still done in Italy, and for the last time the image of the Child Jesus was given to adore at the end of the Mass.

The conferences took place in the Church of Agustinas Recoletas of Pamplona, with a high issue of attendees.

The conferences took place in the Church of Agustinas Recoletas of Pamplona, with a high issue of attendees.