Advent, the period of preparation for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, begins on the Sunday nearest to 30th November.
We know that the Advent period focuses on expectation and imagine it to serve as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the period running up to Christmas. And indeed this is so – but there’s more to it than that. Isn’t there always? As this article about Advent on Christianity.com explains.
The History of Advent
The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming. This is turn is a translation of the Greek word ‘parousia’. It’s thought by scholars that, during the 4th & 5th centuries, in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians during the January feast of Epiphany: ‘the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and his first miracle at Cana.’
During this time Christians experienced a penitential season similar to Lent in order to prepare for this celebration. There wasn’t originally any connection between Advent and Christmas.
This had changed by the 6th century when Roman Christians associated Advent with the coming of Christ – but not his first ‘coming’ in the manger in Bethlehem but his second coming as the judge of the world. It took until the Middle Ages for the Advent season to be explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Advent as we know it now comprises the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (when the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day Christmas celebration that runs from Christmas Eve to Epiphany on January 6th). Nor it does it include any requirement to fast. It’s more a case of the opposite really – what with office parties and Christmas lunches and general over-indulgence.
Do you do anything to mark the Advent season? It’s nice to know what other people do – if anything – so do comment below. I have a Christmas candle holder at home that conveniently holds four candles and I make a point of lighting one on each Sunday of Advent and taking a few moments to remind myself that there’s more than a shopping-fest involved in the season. Because, whether actively religious or not it does none of us any harm to reflect on the blessings we have. And there endeth the lesson!
Plus – there’s a Danish branch to my family and what with the candle holder being a Danish product it all fits very nicely with the Danish concept of hygge.
Advent Symbols & Candles
The typical colours of Christmas are red, green, white, silver and gold. But you might be surprised to know that Advent features purple or dark blue and pink as well as a white central candle.
This website: http://christianity.about.com/od/christmas/qt/adventwreath.htm explains more detail about the traditional symbolism of each candle.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
Then on each subsequent Sunday, an additional candle is lit.
On the third Sunday of Advent the pink candle, often referred to as the Sheperd’s Candle, is lit. The fourth and last purple candle, often called the “Angel’s Candle,” represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the white centre central candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world.”
Those of us of a certain age here in the UK will have fond memories of the annual Advent crown they made on Blue Peter out of wire coat hangers covered in tinsel. I suspect the health and safety brigade long ago put a stop to that activity.
AA Editorial Services