Advent in the Celtic Church

December 24, 2008

The Celtic church refers to the ancient church during the period prior to the conversion and evangelizing of Ireland by British missionairies, including St. Patrick, in the 5th century. Advent in the early Celtic church, prior to the time that the Nicene Creed was adopted was a very different observance from our modern day celebration. During the time of ancient Celtic Christianity, Western and Eastern churches observed Advent season as a lesser Lenten fast. Advent would begin on November 15th with a Mass. Converts to Christianity would use this time for atonement, to purify themselves, and to prepare for baptism. Celtic monks in Gaul, which was still a Celtic country, observed Advent. The customs of the Romans and Gauls combined during this period to include the fast which had been observed by the Romans and was anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. It wasn’t until the 4th century (300’s A.D.) that Advent began to change from a time of fasting and atonement to a period of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Celtic monks also added the feast of Martin of Tours, who was a Roman cavalry officer who converted to Christianity and founded the Gaul Monasteries. the first was the Liguge monastery in 363 A.D. By the end of the 4th century, Advent was celebrated by the whole church, but it wasn’t until the 6th century that a time was set aside to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Celtic Advent is always celebrated from November 15th until December 24th. The same applies for the Eastern Orthodox Advent, which is the time of the Nativity Fast.
For those who wish to celebrate a more holy season and a non secular Christmas, Celtic Advent provides the opportunity for reflection and contemplation about the coming of our Lord. If you are observing Celtic Advent as a Lesser Lenten Fast, it’s not actually forty days of fasting. Sundays and Feast Days aren’t counted as fasting days, and in some cases, it can mean that you are simply giving up a particular food as you would during Lent. Symbolically, it’s your rite of purification as you prepare for the Feast of the Nativity. Celtic Advent Liturgies are found on this site:

Blessed Advent.




The Twelve Days of Christmas

December 24, 2008

Everyone knows the familiar carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but have you ever thought of the meaning behind the lyrics? In fact it’s been said that the carol is about the hidden meanings of the Christian Faith. The Twelve Days refer to the days between Christmas and Epiphany, the day when it is said that the Three Wise Men arrived to pay homage to the Christ Child. Some believe it was used as a way to teach the catechism to children. There’s no concrete proof either way, but it’s an interesting theory. The following is the explanation of the symbolism in this song.

Jesus represents the Partridge in a Pear Tree, symbolically expressing a mother hen protecting her chicks.

Luke 13:34.

The Two Turtle Doves. The Old and New Testaments.

Three French Hens. Three virtues of the Christian Faith:

Faith, Hope, Love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Four Calling Birds. The Four Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Five Gold Rings. The Torah, or the first Five Books of the Old Testament:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Six Geese A Laying. The Six Days of Creation. Genesis 1.

Seven Swans A Swimming. The gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Prophecy, Ministry, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, leading, Compassion.

Romans 12:6-8 and Corinthians 12:8-11.

Eight Maids A Milking. The eight Beatitudes. Mathew 5:3-10.

Nine Ladies Dancing. The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Galatians 5:22

Ten Lords A Leaping. The Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:1-17.

Eleven Pipers Piping. The Eleven Apostles, not including Judas Iscariot. Luke 6:14-16.

Twelve Drummers Drumming. The Twelve principles of The Apostles Creed.

Celtic Christmas Traditions

December 24, 2008

Many modern day Christmas traditions were originally of Celtic origin. One of the most ancient festivals is Alban Arthuan, or “The Light of Arthur.” This is in reference to King Arthur, who was presumed to be born during the Winter Solstice. It’s also called Yule. This is where the custom of burning a Yule Log originated. According to the beliefs of the time, what was left of the log from the prior year would be burned to ensure good luck. Some of the customs about Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he’s called, also derived from Celtic lore.

The custom of using holly came from the Druids, who believed it stayed green when all other trees lost their leaves, so the earth would still be beautiful. One of their customs was to wear it in their hair when they watched the priests gather mistletoe in the woods. They also thought that if they hung holly around their homes, it would keep evil spirits from harming them.

Contrary to the celebrations in other Celtic areas, the Scots most well known celebration of the season is Hogmanay. This is because the church that is most influental in Scotland is the Presbyterian church who saw Christmas as more of a Catholic holiday, and therefore discouraged celebrating in favor of a more subdued holiday. My grandfather was from Scotland and my great grandfather was from Northern Ireland, and when I was a child, Christmas Eve service at our church was the most important part of the holiday, followed by a quiet family dinner the next day. Sometimes we would exchange gifts after the service, however it was much more low key than the way many people celebrate today. Hogmanay was a special time to celebrate with family and friends, and was the day my grandfather always looked forward to, since more focus was placed on that day when he was growing up in Scotland.

The custom of hanging mistletoe came from the ancient Celts, and had a different meaning from the way it’s used today. The Celtic belief was that mistletoe had extraordinary healing capabilities and was sacred. They believed it had healing power, could protect them from witchcraft and all evil, and bring blessings and good luck to them. If they met an enemy in a forest where mistletoe was hanging, they’d put their arms down, greet each other, and agree to stop fighting until the next day. Hanging mistletoe in a doorway is a sign of peace to everyone who enters your home.

There’s a belief among some neo-pagans that Christianity in the British Isles destroyed the Druid religion of the Celts.  I even recall reading a non-fiction book once where the author stated that early Christian saints personally burned written records of the ancient Druid religion.  Sadly, a lot of people drawn to the “ancient ways” believe such nonsense in spite of contradictory historical facts. What actually destroyed the Druid stronghold, the influence of Christianity, the pre-Christian Roman Empire, or a mixture of various events?

One of the first things that must be kept in mind is that the Druid tradition was passed down orally.  there was no established canon of Scripture as is found in major world religions. Much of what we now know about the Druids and ancient Celts comes from Roman writers, as well as modern archeological finds.  Christian monks also preserved some information on Druidism.

A revolt against occupying Romans in Britain in 60 CE lead to a diminishing of Druidic influence.  During this period of time, worship of Roman gods was introduced into the religious practices of Britain, with temples to Roman deities replacing the Druid worship sites.  The Druids, however, were not willing to adopt the Roman religion, and the existence of their religion posed a threat to the Romans. It seems that the Roman Empire undermined the influence of the Druids in society, paving the way for eventual acceptance of a new religion.

It’s not reasonable to assume that a monolithic movement of Christians was responsible for the downfall of Druidism.  After all, at the time Christianity arrived in Britain, the Roman Empire was still pagan and Christians were persecuted. A persecuted, “undercover” people could not have exerted that level of influence at the time. In short, Druidism in Britain seemed to fade due to major upheavals in society.


An Irish Saint

June 23, 2008

An account of the life of Sir Oliver Plunkett. What are your thoughts on the Cromwellian period of Irish history?