Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hanging of the Greens - Tonight! - 7 PM

For sixteen years, our church has held a service of preparation for Christ's coming, on the First Sunday in Advent, which includes hanging greenery traditionally associated with everlasting life. Advent is the first season of the Church Year, and is a hopeful season of preparation, anticipating Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the consummation of human history when God is with us.

Wekiva Presbyterian Church's Hanging of the Greens service was the brainchild of yours truly and our then Presbyterian Women's President Emma Jean. My first September at Wekiva, Emma Jean called me and among the things we talked about that day, she said, "John have you ever considered having a Hanging of the Greens?" I said, "I have! In fact I have the service here in my files--let's do it!" So the tradition began.

The Hanging of the Greens reveals the religious significance of centuries of Christmas customs. It is based on the Olde English tradition of decorating the church or the home with wreaths, garlands, a Christmas tree, and evergreens for Advent and Christmas. In a church setting, it readies the sanctuary (and church members) for the season, and people of all ages have opportunity to participate.

Greens such as cedar for royalty, fir and pine boughs for everlasting life, holly symbolizing Jesus' death and ivy representing the resurrection are used.

I have heard a number of "origins" stories about Hanging of the Greens. One says that it dates back to the Druids in England. Several books read as follows: "The Hanging of the Greens began as an ancient English custom, as part of a pre-Christian ritual celebrating the winter solstice." Of course, what Christian churches do has a different and deeper significance than what they might have done.

Some other references credit the Welsh with beginning Hanging of the Greens, which may make sense if you think about the Christmas carol that is most associated with the action of hanging the greens,
"Deck the Halls". The tune for that carol is from a old Welsh melody.

As for here in the U.S.A., one historian talks about the Hanging of the Greens in 1861 as a time-honored custom in the Confederacy. Furman University's beloved program dates to before the merger of Greenville Women's College and Furman in the early 1930s. "The Hanging of the Greens: A Fantasy to Precede the Holiday Season" a small book by Mrs. Arthur Withington, was published in 1927 and reissued in 1932. Colorado Women's College started their Hanging of the Greens ceremony in 1930. Cottey College also has a longstanding Hanging of the Greens tradition.

I suspect that the worship service we know traces back to the YWCA. The YWCA presented a Hanging of the Greens as early as 1915, and by 1918 they were calling it "traditional". The YWCA in Wausau, Wisconsin, holds a Hanging of the Greens that dates back to 1924 and is ongoing. Their current website reads, "Held at dusk on the first Sunday in December, the original ceremony included a nativity play, candle lighting, carolers, and lighting of the Yule log. Although altered a bit in the present day, the true spirit of this longstanding YW tradition remains."

Some references credit Frances Kipps Spencer (1917-1990) at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia (the originator of Chrismons and Chrismon Tree) as the source of the Hanging of the Greens service ( in 1957), as it is practiced in many churches today.

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