When I started thinking about what Jews might want to know about Christmas, I realized that there’s probably some diversity among Christians as to how they celebrate the holiday. I decided to write two blogs about the religious differences among Christians at Christmas. This post will be about the period before Christmas, and stay tuned for my blog about Christmas itself- to be posted Friday!
A big difference among churches is what happens before Christmas. Though all churches celebrate Christmas around the same time, only some churches, called “liturgical churches,” follow the Christian calendar‘s holy seasons. This is similar to how Jews use the Jewish calendar to determine holidays. The standard liturgical denominations are Catholic, Orthodox, and the following Protestant denominations: Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian. Advent (“coming” in Latin) is one of the seasons observed by liturgical churches, starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. It is a time marked not by celebration but reflection and penitence, with particular reflection on the Hebrew prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. (A symbol of Advent is the Advent wreath with four candles.)
Advent is a time for Christians to prepare spiritually both for the birth of Jesus and, eventually, his Second Coming. It’s kind of like how Jews clean out the hametz from homes before Passover or count the days between Passover and Shavuot. Similar to how Jews often refrain from having baby showers until after a baby is born, those observing Advent won’t celebrate Christmas before December 24th. So if you notice a nativity scene with the baby Jesus missing, don’t call the police to report vandalism- it’s a common practice to keep the baby Jesus out of the manger until Christmas morning.