What Is Advent?

Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent Before Christmas?

What Does Advent Mean?
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What Does Advent Mean?

Advent comes from the Latin word "adventus" which means "coming" or "arrival." In Western churches, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, or the Sunday closest to November 30. Advent lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24.

Advent is a season of spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. The Advent season is both a time of celebration and penance. Christians celebrate Advent not only as a way of remembering Christ's first coming as a human baby, but also for his continued presence with us today through the Holy Spirit, and in anticipation of his final return.

For the most part, Advent is observed by Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican / Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. Nowadays, however, more Protestant and Evangelical Christians are beginning to appreciate the spiritual significance of Advent, and have begun to celebrate the season through reflection, joyful expectation, and observing some of the traditional Advent customs.

Advent Colors

The liturgical color during this period is purple. This is when the Catholic Church changes the cycle of readings used in Mass.

Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is a popular symbol of the season. Some say the wreath has its roots in pagan rituals associated with winter solstice. The meaning of the wreath has changed so that the four candles interspersed around the wreath now represent the coming of Jesus Christ.

Typically, the Advent wreath holds three purple candles and one pink or rose-colored candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

One candle is lit on each Sunday during Advent, but on the third Sunday the candle is rose-colored to remind people to rejoice in the Lord. This third Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, as Gaudete comes from the Latin word for "rejoice." The change from purple as the liturgical color to rose represents the change from being a season of repentance to celebration.

Some churches now use blue candles instead of purple, so that the season of Advent can be differentiated from Lent, as purple is also the liturgical color of that season.

Jesse Tree

Jesse Trees are also a traditional part of Advent, as they represent the family line of Jesse, David's father, since Jesus came from this family line. Each day an ornament is added to the tree to represent each of Jesus' ancestors.

A Jesse Tree family project can be a unique, useful, and fun to teach children about the Bible at Christmas.

For more about the origins of Advent, see the History of Christmas.

Edited by Mary Fairchild