Growing up Baptist, I knew nothing of advent wreaths and candles. The nearing of Christmas was marked by television: Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (with the voice of Boris Karloff). And yes, even though I now know advent wreaths and candles, I still want my tv shows.
But after I was ordained I found out about another more obscure advent tradition, the Advent Nazi. It's a church version of Jerry Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. These are the people, often priests sometimes a lay person, who have been to one too many liturgical conferences, who want absolutely no Christmas in their Advent: no decorations, no music, no parties, none of it. While I understand the sentiment and hate the Christmas decorations the day after Halloween in stores, I don't think it's a battle we can win.
Where we can win is internally. If we look at the history of Advent we discover that it was originally a time of fasting, parallel to Lent. It was the early Church's counter-cultural response to among other things, saturnalia. While the pagans got drunk, the Christians fasted and prayed.
Today we begin a new liturgical year. Our Jewish brothers and sisters begin each year with a time of penance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Perhaps this year we need to remember why we wear violet. We need to remember the penitential quality of Advent. We need to identify those parts of our own lives that still need conversion. In Advent, the days grow progressively darker, each one shorter than the one before. In the same way darkness can slowly creep into our own hearts. As we move through the days of Advent can we name the darkness in ourselves, so that Christ can wash it away and make room for his own marvelous light. Come, Lord Jesus!