...Violet gives way to Rose
The third Sunday of Advent is often referred to as "Gaudete Sunday." It is so called from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass (
, i.e. Rejoice). The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (12 November), whence it was often called "St. Martin's Lent"—a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century.
Notwithstanding all the passage of time, Advent still retains many characteristics of a penitential season, which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent, the middle (or third) Sunday corresponding with Laetare or Mid-Lent Sunday. On it, as on Laetare Sunday, the organ and flowers, forbidden during the rest of the season, are permitted to be used; rose-colored vestments are allowed instead of violet. Gaudete Sunday might be considered a "break" about midway through the season and signifies the nearness of the Lord's coming.
The joy of expectation is emphasized by the constant Alleluias, which occur in both Office and Mass throughout the entire season. In the Mass, the Entrance Antiphon,
Gaudete in Domino Semper,
strikes the same note, and gives its name to the day, The Epistle incites us to rejoicing, and bids us prepare to meet the coming Savior with prayers and supplication and thanksgiving, while the Gospel, the words of St. John the Baptist, warns us that the Lamb of God is even now in our midst, though we appear to know Him not. The spirit of the Office and Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the Christmas feast as well as for the second coming of Christ, and the penitential exercises suitable to that spirit are thus on Gaudete Sunday suspended for a while in order to symbolize that joy and gladness in the Promised Redemption which should never be absent from the heart of the faithful.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
When Should You Put It Up?
Traditionally, Catholics did not put up their Christmas trees until after noon on Christmas Eve. The same was true of all Christmas decorations. The purpose of the tree and the decorations is to celebrate the feast of Christmas. By putting them up early, we anticipate the feast, and Christmas loses some of its sense of joyfulness when it finally does arrive.
Most Christians today spend the entire season of Advent celebrating Christmas rather than preparing for it... Of course, if you wait until Christmas Eve to purchase your Christmas tree, you might end up with a sad, spindly-looking stick like the one that Charlie Brown brings to the Christmas pageant in
A Charlie Brown Christmas
. (On the other hand, you might also get your tree at a very low price, or even free!) But holding off on purchasing a tree until Gaudete Sunday (the 3rd Sunday of Advent) and then decorating it as late as possible, is a reasonable compromise.
Even if circumstances make it necessary to put up the Christmas tree earlier in Advent, we can still maintain some sense of the Advent season by not lighting the lights until Christmas Eve, or by putting out our most precious decorations (and perhaps the star for the top of the tree) only on Christmas Eve. Such practices increase the sense of expectation, especially among children and make Christmas Day all the more joyful.
Scott P. Richert, About.com Catholicism
When Should You Take It Down?
Traditionally, Catholics did not take down their Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations until January 7, the day after Epiphany. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day; the period before that is Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas end on Epiphany, the day that the Three Wise Men came to pay homage to the Child Jesus.
Because so many people, especially in the United States, treat the Advent season as the "Christmas season" however, the actual Christmas season gets lost. by the time Christmas Day comes, people are ready to pack up the decorations, and the tree—which they might have put up as early as Thanksgiving weekend—is probably past its prime.
If we were to revive the older tradition of putting up the Christmas tree and decorations closer to Christmas, then we could celebrate Advent to its fullest—and in keeping our decorations up after Christmas Day, we might find a renewed sense of joy in celebrating all Twelve Days of Christmas.
Scott P. Richert, About.com Catholicism