Advent-purple trees

As the late spring slides into early summer, and the new Church year begins, the colour purple dotting the landscape of Sydney is a natural reminder of Advent. The coincidence of Advent’s liturgical colour with the late-spring flowering Jacaranda trees and agapanthus plants embodies a rare consonance between the Church’s liturgical season and the local Australian landscape. Both the liturgical season and the purple flowering plants are imports (Advent came across with the early Christian convicts and settlers, while the Jacaranda came from South America and the agapanthus from South Africa), and yet, somehow, all flourish in the local environment, bringing joy and natural beauty to our gardens and our liturgical lives. The gradual purpling of the previously-bare Jacaranda branches prepares us for the greening of the young leaves to follow once the trumpet-flowers lie in a purple carpet at the foot of the tree. Such natural signs can serve as a visual reminder of new life breaking into creation, inviting us to permit God’s presence to break into our consciousness anew.

For many in temperate-Australia, the blossoming of the Advent-purple trees means that Christmas is not far off. Rather than rugging-up against the increasing cold and watching the light fade as the year proceeds toward the northern winter solstice, many in the south have to remind ourselves to protect our winter-skin against the increasing intensity of the sunlight as we head toward the longest day of the year and daylight-savings tempts us to stay out of doors later and later. In temperate-Australia, Christmas is celebrated amidst the revelation of the light in its fullness; its celebration heralds the inauguration of a long-awaited summer break at the end of the academic and calendar year. In the race to year’s end, taking the time to stop and enjoy the natural beauty of a creation blooming with life can provide a moment of joy as we hurtle headlong toward Christmas, and the promise thereafter of a season of relief, refreshment, relaxation and renewal.

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14 comments

  1. Interesting post, except there is a major flaw to this entire post… the color for Advent is VIOLET. The fact that the Church makes a distinction for Lent – Violet OR purple, says something important.

    The decor of a church, vestments etc, should not be the same in one season where we sing things such as Soon and Very Soon, O Come Divine Messiah – to another season where we are FORBIDDEN to sing Alleluia.

    We live in a society in which it is important for people to purchase HD tvs with enough resolution to allow one to see the pores on the actors on screen. To share the same, or barely different shades of violet for both seasons should be avoided.

    The USCCB said, while light blue is not approved for use, blue hues of violet are allowed to distinguish Advent from the more penitential season of Lent.

    Personally, I long to see blue approved for Advent. God has given us all these beautiful colors – lets use them. Perhaps the Spirit was attempting to make a reform in the past (one that has caught on in Lutheran denominations). Until then, we should have sharp contrasts in the colors between Advent and Lent.

    Two final thoughts… recall your science. ROY G BIV – Blue is much closer to violet than red.

    Lastly – Roses are red, violets are blue. 🙂

    God bless.

    1. What is your particular source for the “violet or purple for Lent” vs “violet for Advent” idea? The GIRM specifies violet or purple for both.

      And dark bluish shades of violet were traditionally more sober and penitential that the more royal purplish shades.

      1. My apologies, I did state that incorrectly. However, that the USCCB did come out and say that bluer shades of violet may be used seems to give greater preference to Violet over purple for Advent.

        And traditions can certainly change. Wasn’t black the principal color for funerals for a good long time?

      2. Were blue universally allowed as a liturgical color, I would perfer it be used for feasts of Our Lady – since those are the rare circumstances for which
        it has been allowed (and apparently is still allowed in some places).

        I could have sworn that I read somewhere that blue was at one time a traditional Lent and Advent color in Northern parts of Europe where purple dye was harder to come by (but not as an Advent-only color). I had the impression that Lutherans came to use blue mostly for this reason.

        I’d like to see black revived as the principal color for funerals. It seems appropriate considering western culture’s strong associations between black and funerals (and I would prefer white in cultures for which that color has a strong connection to mourning).

    2. There are many shades in the colour spectrum and what one may see as violet others may term differently. It seems you missed the point of the post, unfortunately.

      1. I enjoyed the point – but simply put, stating that the color of Advent is purple is not entirely correct. This is a liturgical forum. Terminology matters.

  2. I’ve always loved the idea of springtime Advent, but I worry about what it would do to my wintertime Ordinary Time. At least here in Minnesota where I fought a sleet storm to get home tonight Advent and Christmas provide a sense of progression! 🙂

  3. Whatever you do, please be consistent in your choice of color. Some parishes have wildly clashing shades of blue/indigo/violet/purple/whatever between the decor, vestments, book covers, etc. Makes me wonder if the environment coordinator was born colorblind or if she has blown out her rods and cones.

    1. First of all: Clare, thank you for sharing! It’s always been a joy to read your wisdom on children in liturgy and all things Australian. Keep sharing! I saw my first Jacaranda trees last Advent in Argentina and Uruguay, and I was taken back by their beauty and their colors. My vacation album is filled with pictures of them.

      Scott: As someone gifted by God with colorblindness, please be more gentle. We don’t mean to ruin your ability to pray. A friendly suggestion or offer to help or a donation goes a long way for those of us (paid or volunteer) who are dealing with enviroment, music, training, preachers, catechesis, committees, new missals, etc. Not to mention no budgets so you take what you can get when a richer parish down the road offers you their leftovers.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Chuck. I was being facetious about A&E coordinators being colorblind and I didn’t mean to offend anyone who is actually colorblind. More likely these instances of color-clashing arise from a lack of attention to detail or basic knowledge of design principles. We generally expect lectors to be able to enunciate and cantors to sing on key, then to further refine those skills to the best of their abilities. Yet oftentimes A&E takes no account of someone’s ability or training in design, leaving the “decoration” to someone who simply “means well.” There are wonderful exceptions, but this is often the least developed of our parish liturgical ministries.

  4. Sean Whelan :
    I enjoyed the point – but simply put, stating that the color of Advent is purple is not entirely correct. This is a liturgical forum. Terminology matters.

    I wonder if the Pharisees or Saducees had a blog. if they’d out-nitpick Catholic rubrical types.

    1. I’m trying to go by the letter of the law to use greater variation in the liturgy. Having worshipped in communities that have used blue – it is truly wonderful.

      One could surmise that ANYTHING we do in liturgy could be reduced to “Is it really that big of a deal in the scheme of life?”

  5. Thanks Clare for sharing the experience of us Australians of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Light is certainly not something we long for at this time of year, but something that we’re well and truly bathed in.

    It’s interesting how, although Advent found its origins in another place and time, there are still very natural ways for it to find expression here in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Given also that it is our summer and our long holiday period from the school year, etc, we’re also presented with the challenge of sustaining the Christmas season right through to the Baptism of the Lord when so many people head off on the Feast of St Stephen (or the Holy Family as it is this year). It doesn’t help either when parish musicians and other ministers take the chance in January to take time off, and we’re left with somewhat flat celebrations on great feasts like the Epiphany. Christmas is often seen to be over the moment Christmas Day is through.

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