Nativity Lent

Beyond the War on Christmas: AP serves up an advent story that fails to mention Advent

Beyond the War on Christmas: AP serves up an advent story that fails to mention Advent

It’s time for a major-league GetReligion flashback.

It has been a decade since M.Z. “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway wrote a post — a low-key nod to the whole “War on Christmas” school of media coverage — in which she talked about the overlooked religious traditions that, once upon a time, millions of Christians followed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The name of her post back in 2008: “The War on Advent.” Here is MZ’s overture:

Of all the seasons of the church year, the first — Advent — is definitely the one that leaves me feeling most out of touch with my fellow Americans. While everyone else is frantically shopping, decorating, partying, those Christians who mark Advent are in a period of preparation and prayerful contemplation. The disciplines of Advent include confession and repentance, prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting and the singing of the Great O Antiphons and other seasonal hymns. …

The season is marked by millions of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and many other Christians, but not only do you rarely see any media coverage of it, the media actively promotes the secular version. 

Advent ends on Christmas Eve with the beginning of the Christmas season. In America, the end of Advent coincides with the end of the secular Christmas season/shoppingpalooza. Just as my family is putting up Christmas trees and lights and buying gifts for friends and family, much of the rest of America is experiencing the post-Christmas hangover.

This is all true. I thought that back when I was an evangelical Anglican and I feel that way today as an Eastern Orthodox Christian — only we observe Nativity Lent. Yes, I have written about this topic here, here and here (in which I asked Siri for some seasonal info). You get the point.

So what is Advent? Here’s a piece of yet another column I wrote on that. The voice here is the Rev. Timothy Paul Jones, a Baptist who is the author of “Church History Made Easy.

… Jones noted that "Advent ... comes to us from a Latin term that means 'toward the coming.' The purpose of this season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting. As early as the 4th century A.D., Christians fasted during this season. ... By the late Middle Ages, Advent preceded Christmas by 40 days in the Eastern Orthodox Church and by four weeks in western congregations." Advent was then followed by the 12-day Christmas season.

This brings us to an Associated Press story with this rather non-liturgical headline: “Forget the chocolate: Advent calendars go for booze, cheese.

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The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

All over the world, millions and millions of Christians know what the color purple means.

More than anything else, it stands for seasons centering on the repentance of sins. Thus, it is the liturgical color for vestments and altar cloths that the truly ancient churches -- think Eastern Orthodoxy and the Church of Rome -- associate with Great Lent and also with the season known as Nativity Lent in the East and Advent in the West.

Of course, in the modern world Nativity Lent/Advent has been crushed by the cultural steamroller of Shopping-Mall Christmas (which already seems to be underway in television advertising). But that's another story, as in the actual cultural War on Christmas (as opposed to you know what).

Purple is also the liturgical color associated with royalty, as in Christ the King. In Western churches -- especially oldline Protestant churches -- most people link this connection with the purple candles in an Advent wreath. United Methodist churches retain some of these traditions through historic links to Anglicanism.

This brings us news-media speculations about why Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton elected to splash purple into their wardrobe when she gave her speech conceding that Donald Trump had won the presidency. Let's start with the top of this U.S. News & World Report take on the topic:

Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential election to Donald Trump on Wednesday in front of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Both Clintons made a bold statement with their clothing: Hillary donned a dark gray pantsuit with purple lapels and a purple blouse underneath, and Bill wore a matching purple necktie.
Throughout her campaign, Clinton has often sent a message with her fashion choices, so what did the purple ensemble mean?

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War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

So why was that whole Starbucks red cup winter blend outrage thing considered a major news event in the first place?

Yes, you had a former evangelical pastor serving up a click-bait selfie video that let to YouTube after YouTube after YouTube and snarky story after story after story. I thought that this Washington Post something-or-another took the prize for capturing the tone of the media product being served up.

But about that wave of outrage. You know, folks who know something about evangelicalism and its leaders had to stop and ask: Precisely who is Joshua Feuerstein and how in the world did this unknown guy end up getting waves of media coverage?

As you would expect, the Starbucks wars were the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, but host Todd Wilken and I did everything we could to try to find some actual news hooks linked to this fiasco. Click here to tune that in.

For starters, all of this was supposed to have something to do with (a) lots of Christians being upset (although there was next to zero evidence that this was true) and (b) the Christian season of Christmas, which begins on Dec. 25 and continues for the following 12 days.

No, honest. Stop laughing. You can look it (but don't ask Siri).

Then there was this other Washington Post red-cup piece that -- along with the Stephen Colbert piece at the top of this post -- kind of pointed toward the topic that dominated the Crossroads taping.

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This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

It's the question that drives editors crazy in this age of click-bait media: Why do some stories go viral, while others do not?

How about viral news stories in which there is little or no evidence that there is actually a story to be reported in the first place?

I'm talking, of course, about the spew your liquid caffeine on your keyboard levels of media attention dedicated to the Starbucks hates Christmas story that broke out this week, after the usual craziness in social-media land. See the post by our own James Davis with the pun-tastic headline, "Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha." Apparently, there is some kind of pay-cable reference in that naughty headline, too, but that went over my head.

On Facebook, I offered this mini-rant:

Is it acceptable for me to be very upset that millions of Xians think that it's already Christmas and we haven't even started Nativity Lent yet? I mean, who runs their churches, the god of the local mall?

The graphic at the top of this post, passed along by the edgy and hilarious graphic novelist Doug TenNapel, says it all.

At least, I thought it said it all, until M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway, now with The Federalist, went old-school GetReligion on this mess in a piece that ran under this headline: "Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise." MZ did her thing, but then turned this piece into some completely different -- making it must reading for journalists facing the challenge of finding valid pre-Christmas stories to cover this year (and every year, come to think of it). Her piece opened with this summary:

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