By Marie Hoyer

There are various customs during the Christmas season which add to the event. One of these is the Advent calendar anticipating Christmas Day. The calendar is comprised of 25 little doors or windows that are closed. Beginning the first day of Advent, one door is opened revealing a small gift or picture. A numbered door is opened each day until December 25. A sister and her adult daughter have been making advent calendars for each other with 25 small gifts. A theme is picked out and the challenge is to see how inexpensive the gifts can be. A small free sample of something also counts as a gift. All are wrapped, dated and delivered four weeks before Christmas.

Four weeks before Christmas, an Advent wreath may also be used. Advent means “coming” which is why Advent wreaths are used in some churches (and in some homes as well). The Advent wreath may be a circle of evergreen boughs or form. Four candles in holders are placed in different areas. The first week, one candle is lit, the second week two candles and so on, representing the coming of Christ. Prayers accompany the lighting. The candles may be three violet and one pink, various colors, or all one color. Advent begins the last Sunday of November or the first Sunday of December depending on when December 25 falls.

Christmas crackers are not like the ones to put into soup! They are tube-shaped, festively wrapped, and placed beside one’s Christmas dinner plate. Before the meal, the end is pulled, opening with a large pop. Inside one finds a paper party hat or crown, perhaps a small toy or other item. The crown is worn during dinner and is thought to represent the crowns the Wise Men wore.

The crackers were first made in England by a London sweet maker around 1845-1850. Sitting by a fire, he noticed the crackling of the flames as they burned and the flames inspired him to develop the crackers. Originally they were known as ‘cosa ques’ after Cossack soldiers who would fire their guns into the air while riding horses. Even today the British Royal Family continues to have special crackers made for them.

Many items like the above mentioned have lost their true meaning yet they can still add to the Christmas festivities.