I was walking on the snow-covered streets of Old Town Prague last week making my way to a meeting of the Conference of Czech Rectors of which I am a member. The streets are now alive with wooden huts full of speciality items for the Christmas markets – Glühwine, Old Prague Pork, various delicacies, bright glass baubles, silly knick-knack items for stocking fillers and of course, wreaths of greenery with four bright coloured candles – purple, red, blue or gold – for this Advent season. They sell well, but here is the irony of the Czech Advent ring: there is no central white candle. The four weeks of Advent are clear enough and people love the rings, but the meaning is lost – the Advent Hope, the Word of God, John the Baptist preparing the way and Mary, expectant for the Christ Child.
In our chapel our Advent ring is different, for sat in the centre is the pure white candle to be lit on Christmas Eve at midnight. It was C S Lewis in “Narnia” who penned the famous line “always winter, never Christmas,” and that is how it can feel in the Czech Republic. The winter festivities abound, the wreaths with their candles, fruit, cinnamon sticks galore, but the central Christ-light is missing, not only in the wreaths, but in the hearts of this city which was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.