From the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Etymology: Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition — more at treason
Date: 14th century
1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
4 : characteristic manner, method, or style
Advent is a tradition that my family has participated in since I was a child. It connects me to the river of other believers through history who have likewise used four candles (five, if you include the Christ candle of Christmas Eve) to retell the story of the coming of the Christ. It is a continuity. It is not really personal (except for my individual memories), it is more about community. And as Tevye, in “Fidder on the Roof,” came to understand, the traditions that I cling to as the “right” way to remember and live must be seen as something dynamic and living and changing. It is not so much about the details (e.g., colors of the candles, which candle to light first, what words are used to “name” each of the four advent candles) but more about the opportunity to share in community the anticipation and the retelling of the story.
For me, Advent is all about becoming hungry. Hungry for the rest of the story. Each week is an appetizer. By the time we get to the end of the month, I want to be aching for the celebration of Christmas! When I was a child the church was not decorated (save for the colors of the advent candles) until Christmas Eve. But oh, what delight when we entered at midnight on Christmas Eve! The whole sanctuary was full of the heady smell of greenery. Flowers filled the front (in memory of those who taught us our own traditions). And candles were everywhere. I can still feel and smell those memories in my mind’s eye. This is how the story was recounted for me.
As we begin this Advent season, anticipating Christmas (and that holiday’s own set of traditions!), I will look for ways to “hand down” my own “inherited” “beliefs” and “customs” to the younger generation of my family. And I’m sure they will teach me new ways of celebrating and participating in this time of retelling of the story.