It's funny, we have celebrated Advent every year in my church and yet, when I started to do this page for it, I had no idea what Advent was. I honestly thought it took place in November.
The word ADVENT comes from the Latin word ADVENTUS (meaning "the coming" or "the arrival"). Advent starts 4 weeks before Christmas (usually the last Sunday in November) and continues until Christmas day.
Advent is a time of worship and expectation. It is a time to reflect on our spiritual lives, our love of God, our joy in Jesus, and the anticipation of His birth. For children, there's the Advent Calendar and the joy of uncovering a number on the calendar each day to discover what small gift they will receive for that day.
"A season of Advent seems to have originated in Gaul in the fifth or sixth century as a period of preparation, first for Epiphany when baptisms were often administered, and only later for Christmas. Its length varied from three weeks to forty days." It was a time much like Lent, full of fasting, penance and preparation for Christmas. Some still fast during Advent, eating only the midday meal (and perhaps a small collation at night) and refraining from eating flesh meat.
Probably the most prominent symbol of Advent is the wreath. It is usually made of evergreens, with 3 purple candles and 1 pink or rose candle. Some will also include a white candle for the center of the wreath - to be lit on Christmas day.
Each of the different parts of the Advent wreath has a meaning:
Purple Candles - sorrow we feel for not loving Jesus enough
Pink or Rose Candle - joy surrounding the impending birth of Jesus
Circle - God is eternal, with no beginning and no end
Light of the Candles - Jesus is the light of the world, and soon we will celebrate the day of His birth
In the first week of Advent, one of the purple candles is lit. In the second week, another purple candle and in the third week, the last purple candle. In the fourth week the pink or rose candle is lit and on Christmas day (if it's used), the white candle is lit. Prayers are usually said at the lighting of the candles.
(Sources used: Advent, Catholic Online Advent Home Page, Catholic Encyclopedia: FAST, Advent and Christmas - St. Peter's Church, Nottingham, Catholic Online Advent Wreath Page)
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