The season of Christmas comes with a lot of traditions, including Advent. Advent is a practice that dates back millennia and has long been celebrated by believers in a number of different ways.
The Christmas season is often frantic and busy. Advent urges us to slow down and celebrate the miracle of Jesus' birth thoughtfully. Read on to learn a little more about the season of Advent and the ways in which it can be practiced.
The History of Advent
At its core Advent is a season anticipating Christmas. Meaning "arrival," the word was originally used to refer to the season of preparation for the baptism of new believers in January. This original season comprised 40 days of fasting and praying before baptism.
While it wasn’t originally connected to Christmas, in the sixth century the Romans used it to look forward to the second coming of Christ. And in the Middle Ages, this switched to Christ’s first coming—his birth.
How is Advent Practiced?
The season of Advent spans the four Sundays before Christmas. The dates each year change, so it can be useful to get an Advent Calendar each year to help you keep track of the days as they pass.
Advent celebrates both the first and second coming of Christ. The first two Sundays celebrate the anticipation of Jesus' arrival, while the last two Sundays focus on remembrance of the first Christmas.
Advent is usually celebrated by reading passages from the Nativity story. As each day brings us closer to the manger and the newborn baby Jesus, we are invited to reflect on the various characters and figures of the Christmas story. What was that first Christmas like for Mary and Joseph? For the shepherds? What was it like to anticipate the coming King in the time of the Old Testament Prophets?
The four Sundays of Advent are traditionally marked by using an Advent wreath. In the shape of a ring or a crown, Advent wreaths include four candles—one for each Sunday, often with with a fifth candle in the center to be lit on Christmas Day. These wreaths are often made out of evergreens, to represent everlasting life. They sometimes include red berries to represent the death of Christ on the cross. Pinecones can be used to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus.
Each of these candles represents an aspect of the miracle of Christmas, such as hope, joy, peace, or faith. The color of Advent candles can vary, but they are often purple, white, or blue.
Another way to mark the passage of the Advent season is through the use of Advent calendars. While Advent wreaths focus on the four Sundays of leading up to the Christmas season, Advent calendars give us something to celebrate and reflect upon each day of the week. This is a calendar filled with treats, trinkets, or scripture. Each day, a number representing a day in December is opened and a new treat is revealed.
Advent is a time of celebration and remembrance. In the midst of our hustle and bustle, entering into the season of Advent helps us to pause and remember what we're truly celebrating. Engaging in some of these traditions can also help bring the family together around this time. You can include readings of scripture and discussions of faith together.
Although the common traditions of Advent have changed a lot over the years, the core values remain the same. Advent is a time of remembrance and anticipation, and using Advent traditions can help to keep your faith central while still having fun and celebrating.