What is Advent?

In Christianity, the start of a new liturgical year does not begin on January 1st, but it’s during the Advent season. You may have heard of Advent and the activities and celebrations that lead up to Christmas, or you may even celebrate Advent yourself. If you’ve always wanted to know about the liturgical season, its history, rituals, and symbols, then this is the place for you.

This article will talk about what Advent tradition is, how it began, what the rituals are, and why Christians celebrate it. Let’s begin.

what is advent

What is Advent?

Advent is the season of the year that leads up to Christmas. It is observed by various Christian churches to determine fasts, holy days, memorials, and feasts. Some of the denominations that observe the Advent season are Christain Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Methodist, Anglican/Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches.

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and it is derived from the Latin word Adventus, which means “coming.” This Latin word also comes from the Greek word Parousia, or last judgment.

The first day of Advent falls on the first day of a new Liturgical calendar and it begins a 4-week period of preparation in anticipation of the nativity of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Advent season lasts for 26 days, ending on Christmas eve. There are 3 meanings to the “coming” definition of Advent, and these are:

  1. The coming of Jesus Christ’s birth 2000 years ago when he came into this world.

2. The coming of Jesus Christ now as He wants to come into our lives.

3. The coming of Jesus Christ in the future when He comes back to the world as King and Judge.

Advent season emphasizes joy and hope and what we need to add into our lives, such as light, joy, and grace. It is also meant to be a season of fasting, much like Lent. But instead of sorrow and repentance, Advent celebrates life’s joys.

History and Meaning of Advent

There is no actual recorded data as to when the observance of the Advent season began; there has been some historical evidence that the season was first celebrated to at least 567 when monks were ordered to go fasting during December in the days leading up to Christmas.

Some scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries, specifically in Spain and Gaul, Advent was observed as a spiritual preparation for the baptism of new Christians during the feast of Epiphany, which took place in January. It also coincided with the celebration of God’s incarnation, as well as Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and the 1st miracle at Cana.

During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in prayer, fasting, and penance.

In the 6th century, the first association with Advent the coming of Christ was first associated with St. Gregory the Great. And it wasn’t until the 19th century that a form of Advent calendar was first observed in Germany. Protestant Christians would draw 24 chalk lines on a door and rub one off every day until Christmas.

Advent Dates for 2021

Since Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the start of Advent seasons in 2021 is on November 28 and ends on Friday, December 24, or Christmas Eve.

what is advent

Advent Liturgy and Practice

Since there are two elements of Advent, which are remembrance and anticipation, the Advent season is split into two different observances. The first 2 Sundays are to prepare and anticipate Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming while the last 2 Sundays are for looking backward and remembering Christ’s first coming.

Some Christians fast during these seasons, which will help them concentrate on preparing for the celebration of Jesus’s arrival. Orthodox Christians don’t eat meat and dairy and olive oil, fish, and wine depending on the day.

In many Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, the season lasts 40 days and Advent starts on November 15, which they call the Nativity Fast.

Over the course of 4 weeks, Advent reading covers the passages about Christ’s run in judgment to Old Testament passages about the expectations of the coming Messiah, to New Testament and stories of Christ’s arrival.

During the medieval and pre-medieval times, in certain parts of England, “advent images,” or “vessel cup,” was used as an early form of Nativity scenes. This “cup” or box often had a glass lid that was covered in white napkins. It contained dolls in the image of Mary and baby Jesus. This box was brought door to dr and people paid a halfpenny to be able to see it. It was considered unlucky if you weren’t able to see this box before Christmas.

Advent and Christianity

Advent is observed by Christians all over the world but it is not required. There are many ways Christians celebrate Advent and it’s all a matter of personal choice. When you serve and celebrate Advent, it does not mean you are better than other Christians who are not observing the season, it just means that you value and recognize the importance of Advent.

Advent is a time of preparation, anticipation, and joy. It is celebrating the birth of Jesus, as well as His future coming, and His arrival in your life this Christmas season.

The meaning of Advent has been replaced by the merriment and commercialization of the Christmas season. Parties, gifts, and the holiday season have overshadowed the true meaning of the season. The Christmas tree has become revered.

For Christians, it is important to remember why the season is being observed and celebrated in the first place. With Jesus’s birth thousands of years ago, it is a time to celebrate the beauty of life, the joy of being a Christian, and what we must add to our lives as Christians.

advent wreath

Advent Wreath And Candles

Christians begin to decorate their homes with symbols of Advent as soon as the season begins. And the most important and significant tradition is the Advent wreath. The wreath is decorated with four candles, three in the color of purple, and one in the color of pink.

The wreath is made with evergreens, cedar, pine cones, laurels, holly, and yew. Each of these has its very own symbolisms.

But the wreath itself is a symbol of continuous life. Being a circle, there is no beginning or end and it represents the eternity of God. It also symbolizes the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Jesus Christ. The circle reminds Christians of God’s promise of everlasting life through Christ.

The pine cones symbolize life and resurrection, while the cedar represents strength and healing. The laurels symbolize victory over persecution and suffering, and the pine, holly, and yew represent immortality.

You will often see wreaths decorated on the front door of Christan homes, as well as in offices, hospitals, churches, businesses, and anywhere with a front door.

The four candles decorated with the wreath represent the 4 weeks of Advent. Three of the candles are purple and one’s pink. and one candle is lit each Sunday. Purple is the dominant color of the candles because it is the liturgical color that signifies the time of prayer, sacrifice, and penance.

Sometimes, a white candle is placed in the center of the wreathe. This is a modern interpretation and represents light and purity. It is often called the “Christ Candle” as it presents the life of Christ.

Let’s discuss the symbolism of each of the candles on a wreath.

  • First Candle

The first candle is also called “Prophecy Candle.” It represents the symbol for hope and is used in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who was the one who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. The first candle represents the expectation and anticipation of the coming Messiah.

  • Second Candle

The second candle is also called the “Bethlehem Candle.” It is a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey through Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus Christ.

  • Third Candle

The third candle is the pink candle and it represents joy. It is also known as the “Shepherd’s Candle” and represents the 3rd Sunday of Advent or the Gaudete Sunday. It is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season.

  • Fourth Candle

The fourth candle is the final purple candle to mark the final week of prayer and penance. It is also called the “Angel’s Candle” and it symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men.”

The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree is a unique Advent custom. It is not as common as the wreath but it is a great way to teach children about Jesus Christ. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages and has its origins in the prophecy of Isaiah of the root of Jesse. The tree represents the family tree or genealogy of Jesus. It used to tell the story of salvation, which begins in the story of the creation and continues until the coming of Jesus Christ.

It is a great activity to do with kids, crafting Jesse Trees during the Advent season, and hanging it on a wall as additional decoration and symbolism of the season.

Advent Colors

The main liturgical color for Advent is violet or purple. The church colors are changed to violet during the seasons, and priests and members of the church don purple in ceremonies, rituals, and during Mass. On the 3rd Sunday of the Gaudete Sunday of Advent, church colors may be changed to rose, referencing the Laetare Sunday, or the 4th Sunday of Lent.

In some denominations, instead of the color purple, they use the color blue. Blue repents hope and it is used by the Lutheran Book of Worship, the Methodist Book of Worship. and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

advent calendar

The Advent Calendar

The Advent calendar is also one of the most popular practices of Advent and it’s even practiced by Protestant Christians and families who don’t strictly observe the rituals of the season. In fact, the Advent calendar is one the most commercialized items of the Advent season.

The Advent calendar is a form of a countdown to the birth of Jesus Christ. It can come in a poster, fabric, and other forms of material, typically looking like a regular calendar but with 24 windows on each day leading up to Christmas. A Christmas poem, song, or image is found when a window is opened, revealing a treat, chocolate, candy, or a Bible verse. There are many different images, texts, or objects that can be placed in each window, as long as they represent the days that anticipate the coming of Christmas.

5 Quick Facts About Advent

Here are 5 quick facts about Advent that you should know:

1. Violet is the Color of Advent

As mentioned earlier, violet is the color of choice for Advent as it represents repentance, fasting, as well as of royalty. You will see churches adorned in violet colors, as well as in the homes of devout Advent practitioners.

2. It Originated as a Period of Fasting

While there is no exact date or a historical record of the origin of Advent, it said that monks began fasting in the 5th century at the start of the 3rd week of November to prepare for Epiphany, which is the time when new Christians were baptized each year.

3. It is a Time of Hope, Joy, and New Beginnings

During the entire Advent season, Christians pray, repent, and mourn for the evils and sins of the year that passed. But they also prepare for new beginnings, and look forward to the second coming of Christ, celebrate the arrival of the Lord in their lives and renew their faith. It is a time of worship and celebration.

4. Devout Christians Don’t Play Christmas Music

Devout Advent observers do not play Christmas music until Christmas day. They do, however, play and sing Advent-specific hymns, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

5. Most Christians No Longer Fast But Avoid Certain Foods

Most Christians no longer do fasting during Advent season but they may avoid certain foods, such as dairy, meat, and desserts.

Advent is a wonderful time in anticipation of Christmas. It is an exciting and joyous time, and the lead-up to Christmas is a time for Christians to pray, worship, and prepare for Jesus Christ’s three comings. It is a time to renew our faith in the Lord, welcome new beginnings, and let go of the past. It is a new year for Christians, and it is a time when we remind ourselves of the love of God for us by giving us Jesus Christ, His one and only son.

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