Beginning of the church’s year

The first candle lit on the Advent wreath.

The first candle lit on the Advent wreath.

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Written by Heather Elvidge

Time is flying by, as it always seems to do as the days shorten. This coming Sunday is the first in Advent and the beginning of the church’s year.

Advent means coming, the arrival on earth of the holy child. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, while anticipating His second coming as Christ the King. On Sunday the first candle will be lit on the Advent wreath, a circle of evergreens representing eternity and hope.

The wreath has one pink candle and three blue or purple ones - regal colours, for the King of Kings - with a white candle in the centre. One candle is lit on each Advent Sunday, with the pink one last. The white candle in the centre is lit at a midnight service on Christmas Eve, to mark the arrival of the Light of the World.

Similar wreaths are made for use at home. Red, white, black and green are the secular colours of the season: red for holly berries, white for berries of mistletoe, black for ivy berries, and green for the plants that thrive while others are bare.

Decorating with evergreens is our oldest mid-winter custom; medieval folk hung up branches of holly, ivy, laurel, box, and yew, or formed swags by tying evergreen bunches onto ropes.

Holly was supposed to repel malign forces and was often planted near to a house to protect it from fire. Its spiked leaves reminded Christians of Christ’s crown of thorns and the red berries, His blood.

Mistletoe is the most mysterious of plants, growing neither in heaven nor on earth, but in between.

Although poisonous, mistletoe was used from ancient times to treat a variety of serious conditions; one 
of its Gaelic names is 
all-heal.

With just over four weeks to go, the first of this year’s mistletoe auctions took place this Tuesday at Tenbury Wells in Herefordshire. Tenbury lies in the heartland of English mistletoe, where there are old cider-apple orchards whose mature trees are the ideal hosts. The oldest, lichen-clad trees can bear up to 20 clumps of mistletoe.

Mistletoe makes its own sugars for food so it’s not truly parasitic, though it does take water and minerals from its host. It can’t be hurried - from the first shoot to the first crop can take up to 10 years.

Reports say that this year’s mistletoe has large, well-formed berries. Tenbury mistletoe should make its way to a market, florist, or greengrocer near you, but if it doesn’t there are a few suppliers online. Try www.englishmistletoeshop.co.uk

Celestial wanderer

Remember comet Ison? First spotted by Russian stargazers in September 2012, the comet has been faintly visible to the naked eye, low in the eastern sky just before dawn.

Now Ison is passing close to the sun, dangerously close for something that’s mostly composed of ice and dust. If the comet survives its close encounter on the 28th, it will become visible again in early December.

What will happen then? Well, the comet could break up and vanish. It could become a small object, visible only with binoculars. Or it could brighten into a long-tailed comet, a brilliant sight low in the western sky. We will know soon.