Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Pagan Origins of Advent

Obviously, the pagan origins of Christmas, Easter, Halloween, May Day etc etc have been done to death over the years.  But what about that all-important time of awaiting? Surely, you may think to yourself, Advent also has a pagan origin?

And you'd be right of course. Or at least it has one that is fairly easy to make up. And let's face it, that's as good as a real one in these post-truth, post-caring days.

The word "Advent" comes from two languages - the Flemish "Aarde", meaning Earth, and the French Vent", meaning "Wind". From this we gather that this is an autumnal festival - the time when the great winds blew across the earth. Of course, our proto-Indo-European ancestors would always find any excuse to light a religious fire in these circumstances - hence the ancient English expression "Earth, Wind and Fire."

But - importantly - the ancient Beaker Folk who first created this festival could never agree how early they were supposed to light the sacred flame. Some wanted to wait until Yule - leaving Aarde-Vent as a time of darkness. Others wanted to chase the darkness away as soon as possible: even as early as the Saturday after Black Friday - so named because that was the darkest day, before all the lights got lit. At which point the older Beaker Folk would complain that it was far too long till Yule and nobody understood the real point of Aarde-Vent any more.

We now know that the ancient Beaker Folk of Great Britain made massive pilgrimages to the Stonehenge area ready for the Yule celebration. They brought with them many pigs to eat at the great feast. But what is less well know is that Black Friday is the day that coincided with the Folk from the North and East Anglia arriving on the banks of the Thames at what we now know as London. They would gather at a centre point, on the trackway that led West up what is now Oxford Street. Before setting off on this final stretch they stocked up on new clothing, festive food and jewellery. Occasionally fights would break out as they tried to settle who got the prettiest clothes and jewellery. Some things never change.
Just an excuse for a hog roast, really

The main feature of the Advent period in Beaker times was the way that Beaker Folk would continually go out celebrating because "it's nearly Yule", then wake up in the morning with headaches from too much mead and fruit wine, realising that in fact Yule was weeks away. They exchanged their normal fur outfits for special woollen outfits, woven with pictures of reindeer and fat men in red outfits - possibly to represent their main sources of wild food, and some kind of fertility god.

Meanwhile, the weather being much milder in Beaker times, it wouldn't snow for the whole of what we now call December, and the old ones would complain that it didn't feel much like Solstice.

Aarde-Vent would come to an end with the feast of Yule. The Beaker Folk would drink mead, eat too much and reflect that having done much the same for the whole of the previous month, it didn't seem that special. A tradition that we continue to this day.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. And don't forget it's nearly Christmas!

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