Many Catholic and other folks that I know ponder what the season of Advent is truly about. They have heard the name, have heard of a few of the customs, but become puzzled. Is it Christmas? Is it just like Christmas or isn’t it? What are its colors? What does the title “Advent” even mean? What then is the Advent wreath? Many Christians find themselves wondering about Advent Season, and want a response.
These are excellent questions that Christians should apprehend. A comprehension of the liturgical year is an important aspect of Christian teaching, although a lot of Christians do not avail themselves of this amazing spiritual tool to enhance their life of prayer. What is one tool? It is: the Advent wreath.
Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming” and is used in relation to the coming of Jesus Christ. The official color of Advent season is purple (except week three, which is pink), and it falls 4 Sundays before Christmas and lasts about four weeks. It can start in either December or the end of November.
In ancient times, and in Orthodox and Catholic churches today, Christmas starts on Christmas day, and is a season that lasts until mid-January. This means that traditionally, Christmas doesn’t even start until the 25th of December. Most celebrations of Christmas today commence in November (or even October!) and end on Christmas day. The traditional celebration does not even commence until Christmas day. This is likely why many modern people do not understand Advent, because for most all people, Christmas begins when advent is going on.
The reality is that Advent season is a distinct Christian season than Christmas, and the themes are altogether separate. Please read below for more facts on this eminent season of the Church year.
Advent is a period of expectation, the expectation of the christ. Advent celebrates the many years of waiting for the coming Messiah. This makes sense, as the season leads up to Christmas, the birth of the christ (at least as Christians apprehend the term “messiah”). Thus, during the around 4 weeks of Advent, Christians wait for the nativity of God’s Son, along with the innumerable prophets, priests, and common individuals that waited for hundreds of decades before Christ.
Advent is also about waiting for the next arrival of the christ. This is also an important theme of the season. This is why Scripture readings at Advent also relate to the second arrival of Jesus. In essence, we wait in symbol with those that lived before Jesus, as we wait in reality for his second coming. Thus, Advent season is about waiting.
Advent is similar to Lent, in that it is a season of simplicity, a scaled back season in the Church year. While not a true fast in the official Catholic sense, it is a bare season, a less celebratory and more serious time period prior to the joyous season of Christmas. Thus, traditionally Advent has been a period of penitence and fasting. The “Gloria” section of the Mass is not used during The season of advent, and there is an emphasis on repentance, which is also demonstrated by the prominence of John the Baptist in the Advent season. St. John is a symbol of Advent because not only was he the final prophet before the arrival of Jesus, he also called everyone to repentance in preparation for the message of the messiah.
Overall, the point here is that Advent is not Christmas. Advent then clearly is not Christmas. The two are separate. One is simple, the other cheery. The former penitential, the latter joyful. Even though many individuals start celebrating Christmas around October these days, in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, Advent is an expectant, simple, season that leads up to Christmas, with its own customs and traditions, including the advent wreath, a common devotional consisting of a greenery wreath and four or five candles. For more information on the season and the Advent wreath, please see below.
The author writes on a variety of topics related to Christianity, holy days, and the Christian Year.