Advent Blue

We are about to celebrated the festival of Christ the King, and  it is soon time to begin the new liturgical year with the season of Advent. With the arrival of Advent comes the perennial question: Is the color of Advent blue or purple?

Prior to the changes of the late 20th century, most American Lutheran churches used purple vestments and paraments during the season of Advent. However, in the last 30 years, many churches have started using a deep blue for this season. And so the debate rages: Is Advent purple or blue?

Many who advocate a blue Advent talk about blue being the color of royalty (i.e., "royal blue"). They talk about, rather than a penitential focus, Advent being a time to prepare for (to steal a Tolkien phrase) the return of the King.

Many who advocate a purple Advent talk about purple being the color of penitence and repentance. They often like the parallels between advent and Lent, and may talk about Advent being a "little Lent." Changing to blue, for them, takes the focus off of the most important part of preparing for the return of the King -- repentance.

Unfortunately, "blue adventers" and "purple adventers" often think that the other group is out to ruin this wonderful season of the church. The fact is, if they could listen to one another, they would hear that they are both right. The former liturgy professor at Sewanee, J. Neil Alexander (a former Lutheran, now bishop of the Atlanta Diocese of the Episcopal Church), used to say that we are all held captive by the berries.

Yes, blue is the color of royalty -- but so is purple. Both colors of fabric were very expensive in the days before chemical dyes, because they required such deep, rich colored berries. If you lived around the Mediterranean, chances are your royalty wore purple -- because those were the berries (or other natural dyes) in wide use. If you lived in Northern Europe, chances are your royalty wore blue -- because those were the berries available.

And Yes, purple is the color of penitence -- but so is blue. In the days before chemical dyes, it was nearly impossible to make fabric that was true black -- the color of mourning and repentance. What you wound up with, depending on the natural dyes (berries) you used, was usually either a dark purple or a dark blue. Again, the differences were regional.

So is the "correct" color for Advent purple or blue? Well ... I guess "Yes" is the only answer that works.