Religious Customs of Advent

Feast of Saint Lucy, December 13th

Griffoni Polyptych: St Lucy 1473 Oil on panel, 79 x 56 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington

Griffoni Polyptych: St Lucy
Oil on panel, 79 x 56 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

This painting together with its counterpart representing St Florian belonged to the Griffoni Polyptych and were probably located on the upper part of the side panels.

A plant form with eyes held by the saint refers to the medieval legend that Saint Lucy, patron saint of eyesight, sacrificed her eyes for her Christian faith. In the medieval book, The Golden Legend you can read more of the story of Lucy.


Foods for the Feast

St. Martin’s Lent

Cathedral of St. Martin, Lucca

Cathedral of St. Martin, Lucca

From the 4th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent (commencing in some localities on 11 November; this being the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, the fast became known as “St. Martin’s Lent”, “St. Martin’s Fast” or the “Forty Days of Saint Martin.  The feast day was in many countries a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day.

The St Andrew Christmas Novena

Icon of St. Andrew, The First Called
Icon of St. Andrew, The First Called

The Saint Andrew Christmas Novena is often called simply the “Christmas Novena” or the “Christmas Anticipation Prayer,” because it is prayed 15 times every day from the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (November 30) until Christmas. The First Sunday of Advent is the Sunday closest to the Feast of Saint Andrew.

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

Barbara Branches



St. Barbara, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, is the patron saint of artillerymen, miners, and a happy death. Though her feast on December 4 obviously belongs to the cycle of saints and not to the temporal cycle of Advent, there is a custom observed in her honor that ties into the meaning of the Advent season. A Barbara branch is the name given to a twig that is broken from a fruit tree (especially cherry), placed in a bowl of water, and kept in a warm, well-lit part of the house, such as the kitchen. According to legend, if the Barbara branch blooms on or before Christmas Day, good luck will come to the person whose branch it is. Aside from this harmless superstition, Barbara branches are reminiscent of the image from Isaiah of Christ as a Flower from the root of Jesse (Is. 11.2; the Epistle for Advent Ember Friday); they can thus be instructive in teaching children the meaning of Advent and Christmas. They are also used as the Saint’s tribute to the Christ Child in the manger, lovingly placed in the crèche when they have blossomed.

An Advent Saint- St. Nicholas

December 6th

St. Nicholas, Italian

St. Nicholas, Italian

Arriving at the “truth” of St.  Nicholas is virtually impossible, since the earliest written  accounts date from about 500 years after his lifetime. The story begins with his birth around the year 300 in modern-day Turkey. His noble Christian parents  left him an orphan with great wealth, which Nicholas promptly gave away to the poor. He was selected bishop of the seaport town of Myra through divine intervention, and the remainder of his life was a series of courageous, altruistic and miraculous acts performed in defense of his flock, including suffering imprisonment and torture under the emperor Diocletian. After his death (given as 6 December, in various years around 342), his bones exuded a fragrant healing oil, and reports of his miracles steadily increased.

By the mid-seventh century, shrines to St.  Nicholas began to appear in western Europe. But it was the forcible removal  (or “translation”) of the saint’s remains from Myra to Bari by a group of Italian merchants in 1087 that caused the cult of Nicholas to grow rapidly throughout the west. Because of his reputation as a preserver  of ships and sailors, Nicholas was especially honored in seafaring places,  such as Holland, Normandy, and the river towns of Germany.

St. Nicholas, Illuminated Manuscript
St. Nicholas, Illuminated Manuscript

For customs, nationalities and food to celebrate this Advent Saint please visit this website.

For an inspirational and mediatative experince of medieval music listen to Anonymous 4: Legends of St. Nicholas

The Advent Wreath


Since circles have  no beginning and no end, the circular shape of the Advent Wreath is used to  symbolize God the Father and eternal life. The wreath holds four candles which  are lit over the four weeks of Advent. There are  three violet (purple) candles and one rose candle, each representing 1,000  years. Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity  waited for the Savior.

Violet is a  liturgical color that is used to signify a time of penance, sacrifice, and  prayer. During the first two and the last weeks of Advent we light violet  candles.The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. On this  day we celebrate that our waiting for Christmas is almost over. Rose is a  liturgical color that is used to signify joy, so we light the rose candle on the  third Sunday of Advent.

Traditionally, each  of the four candles on an Advent wreath has their own meaning. The first Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the Prophet’s Candle  reminding us that Jesus is coming. The second Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith  with the Bethlehem Candle reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to  Bethlehem. The third Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the Shepherd’s Candle  reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus. The  fourth Sunday symbolizes Peace with the Angel’s Candle reminding us of the  message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward All.”


About Monsignor Mark Richard Lane

I am a Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Richmond. I am also a presenter in the Theology and Symbolism in Art from the art of the catacombs to modern art. My current research is on the duplicity of art in 19th Century America.
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