What is Advent?

A Kaminsky

Adventus Redemptoris: the coming of the Savior. Now called Advent, these four weeks preceding Christmas Day are some of the most joyful in the Christian year. The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year, in fact. These days leading up to Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure in Christianity, are days of preparation and expectation.

Christians commemorate advent with readings of the Old Testament scriptures.
Christians commemorate advent with readings of the Old Testament scriptures.

Adventus is Latin for "coming" and is the exact parallel to the Greek parouisa, which implies the Second Coming of Christ. Advent, then, reminds Christians of the Great Mystery: "Christ was born. Christ has risen. Christ will come again." Christians celebrate this time of expectation with special services, music and other reminders of a Church pausing to wait yet again for the birth of her Savior.

Advent is commemorated with candles.
Advent is commemorated with candles.

One of the oldest Advent hymns, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," dates from early centuries and is a perennial favorite, with its themes of light overcoming darkness and captives set free. These are major themes in Advent. Christians see the birth of Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, so the season is commemorated with candles and scriptures from the Old Testament messianic prophecies.

Christians celebrate their liturgical seasons with colors, and the color of Advent is purple or royal blue, symbolizing the birth of a king. Churches use paraments, or altar cloths, in these colors, as well. Churches also decorate for Advent, often with a Chrismon tree hung with Christian symbols, an Advent wreath, greenery and poinsettias. Children come to the fore in these days, with Christmas programs, Nativity scenes and Christmas parties.

In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, fasting is common, at least for a short time, to foster a sense of expectation and joyful solemnity during this time. This sense is what makes Advent so special to Christians. In the middle of the madness surrounding this time of year, Christians are called to be still and remember how the Lord of all creation put on flesh and was born a human baby in a stable in a backwater town in ancient Palestine.

The secular world may be caught up in the craziness of the "holiday season," but those celebrating Advent can come to a place of peace and quiet preparation.

Nativity scenes are often part of Advent.
Nativity scenes are often part of Advent.

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Discussion Comments


@dega2010: It is very common in the Catholic religion to place the Advent wreath and candles on the dining room table. Each night when you sit down to eat, you light a candle and do a reading of the scriptures. You have three purple candles and one pink.

The first week you light week one’s purple candle. The first candle is considered Hope.

The second week you light week one’s and week two’s purple candle. The second candle is considered Love.

The third week you light week one and two’s candle, as well as week three’s pink candle. The third candle is considered Joy.

The fourth week you light week one, two and three’s candle, as well as week four’s purple candle. The fourth candle is considered Peace.


How do Catholic’s use the Advent wreath and candle?

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