“He’s coming! This shout of anticipation is the heart of Advent, the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The weeks leading up to Christmas Day are a special time of reflection on God’s gift to us: the child Jesus.” These are the words James Scott wrote in the introduction to his book, The Expected One, Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent.
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” It is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of Christ, usually starting four Sundays before Christmas Day. According to Scott, “Advent is intended to be a time in which we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. The season of Advent is marked by themes of self-reflection, anticipation, hope, and, ultimately, joyful celebration of the Savior’s coming.”
Advent is a season of love and for many Christians it’s focus is the real meaning of Christmas.
Advent probably started during the sixth century when monks were forced to fast during the weeks before Christmas. Today, some people still do some form of fasting during Advent.
There are many traditions that go along with Advent. Some families display an Advent calendar, which usually starts on December first and counts down to Christmas Eve. Some types of Advent calendars have 24 openings or pockets that daily reveal a picture, a message or a treat. Other families celebrate the season with an Advent candle or wreath of candles. The candles are lit on each Sunday of Advent and then on Christmas Day.
The tradition of the Advent calendar probably started in Germany in the mid 1800s when families made chalk tally marks on a wall or a door to count down the days until Christmas. As time went on, they lit candles each day or hung religious pictures to keep track of the days until Christmas. Some families even made their own paper calendars to count the days. By the next century some publishers started making commercial calendars out of paper. Today, crafters make Advent calendars out of different materials and have them for sale at craft shows and shops.
There are different types of candles used during Advent. One is a single candle that has the days up to Christmas Day marked on the candle. On December first the candle is burned down to the first line. This continues down each line each day. The rest of the candle is burned on Christmas Day.
Another type is a group of 24 small candles that are burned one each day through Advent.
A third type is the Advent Crown, or group of four or five candles sometimes arranged in a wreath of greens or in a candelabra. One candle is burned on the first Sunday in Advent; two candles are burned on the second Sunday; three candles on the third Sunday and four candles on the fourth Sunday. If the fifth candle is used, it is usually in the middle of the wreath, and is burned on Christmas Day, representing Jesus, the light of the world.
When parents involve their children in Advent, it becomes a learning experience. One family I know uses special Sunday school lessons on cards along with figures that tell the Christmas story over the four Sundays of Advent. The first Sunday is the candle of the prophets. The second Sunday is the holy family. The third Sunday is “Shepherd’s Sunday”. The fourth Sunday is the Magi. In addition to lighting the candles, the story is told and the figures are placed on their respective place cards.
In many churches the color purple represents Advent, with purple candles. Mary is represented on the third Sunday and the candle lit that week is pink or a rose color.
No matter how you celebrate Advent, it is a special joyous time of hope and love. This year especially, we can use hope and love among us.
Recently a friend and I were reminiscing about Christmases when we were growing up. Her family didn’t have much money. They didn’t get a lot of presents. But she said it didn’t matter. They had a lot of love in their family.
Isn’t that the real meaning of Christmas?