The spirit of Christmas is alive and well again this year in the street that has affectionately become known as Candy Cane Lane. The street in Edmonton, Alberta began putting up Christmas decorations nearly 50 years ago. At that time five families participated in the festivities which became almost a ritual beginning in the late fall with the securing of steel rods in the ground. This had to be done early because the ground would freeze over by December and the steel rods were necessary to hold up the giant snowman that would come to be the symbol of Candy Cane Lane.
Once the five families had completed preparations they would get together for a few drinks and a Light Up the Lights celebration. These families fondly recall the Christmas carollers that always seemed to end up at the door of the party on ‘light up’ night. No need for a snow machine on Candy Cane Lane, the street has enjoyed snow at Christmas for as long as they have been decorating the houses.
Today Candy Cane Lane has earned an international reputation for Christmas spirit and although the street has grown and the population increased, there isn’t a house on Candy Cane Lane that doesn’t join in the festivities. Candy Cane Lane has grown from five houses to eight blocks of houses that participate in the Christmas cheer. Every house on the street does it a little bit differently but common themes on Candy Cane Lane are lights on trees and houses, displays in the front living room, cut out snowmen and Santa’s, candy canes and at one house, the front walk is covered with the bottoms of bleach bottles which are painted and lit to look like giant red and green gum drops.
Some of the residents of Candy Cane Lane are unable to decorate their own houses but not to worry, on a street where Christmas spirit rules; volunteers help these folks out with decorations and labor. The icing on the Christmas cake – the street decorations raised 17,000 kilograms of food for the food bank last year and they expect to do the same or better again.
A tradition born in Germany, the Advent calendar has naturally become a favorite amongst children around the world. Not only do kids savor their tiny daily treat but the anticipation and suspense they experience as Christmas Day gets closer is palpable. This is in line with the whole experience of Advent which represents hope and anticipation. For the uninitiated Advent calendars are beautiful calendars with a Christmas picture behind every door, counting from the first door which is opened on December 1 to the last door opened on December 24 or 25th. Each day the child (or parent!) opens a new door until they reach Christmas, then there is often a set of double doors which traditionally have an image of baby Jesus laying in a manger. These days there is usually a chocolate behind every door with an extra big one for Christmas day. But in the past it was just pictures.
The word Advent is derived from the Latin word for ‘coming ‘or ‘arrival’ and all Advent celebrations are in joyful anticipation of the coming of the light, or Jesus or nowadays, Santa Claus. In the past Advent was also the beginning of the Christian church year. The traditional color of Advent is purple symbolizing the penitent spirit of Advent. Red and green are more secular colors of Christmas derived from older European practices of using evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and the hope that Christ’s birth brings into the world. The first calendar is commonly believed to have been created in 1851.
In German tradition the Advent calendar is part of the whole Advent celebration which runs throughout the month of December. An Advent wreath with four candles is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas symbolizing enlightenment or the coming of the light with the birth of Jesus. Traditionally the candles are purple. The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflect a lessening emphasis on penitence in favor of the celebration of the season. The center candle in the wreath is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The Sundays of Advent are family times regardless of faith or religion. Advent has become symbolic of the values we share within our families and it is a wonderful lead up to Christmas.
Traditions can be created in homes around Christmas and Advent which may include putting up the Christmas tree on the first Advent, Christmas shopping on the second Advent; remaining decorations, baking and presents under the tree on the third and then of course, it’s Christmas. The Advent calendar and wreath serve as countdowns to Christmas Day and are an excellent and happy reminder of needed Christmas preparations with the added incentive of Christmas Candy. Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation and of longing and for kids there is no better way to mark this time than with an advent calendar.