Advent marks the beginning of the lead up to Christmas and lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. This year Advent began on Sunday 28th November. The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin ‘coming’, which traditionally signifies how it is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the traditional meaning of Christmas!
Advent is mainly observed by Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials and holy days. These denominations include Catholic (including St. Patrick’s Church), Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian (including Belfast Cathedral and St. Mary’s Parish Church), Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Nowadays, more Protestant, Evangelical and non-denominational churches (including Redeemer Central) recognise the significance of Advent and have begun to observe the event through observing traditional Advent customs.
There are several ways that Advent is counted down but the most common is by a calendar or candles. An Advent Crown is often used in Churches rather than in people’s homes to count down Advent. The crown is often made up of a wreath of greenery and has four candles round the outside and one in the middle or in a separate place. Sometimes a more traditional candelabra is used to display the five candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two are lit on the second Sunday and so on. Each candle has a different meaning in Christianity. The middle candle (known as the Christ candle) is lit on Christmas Day and represents Jesus, the light of the world.
In many churches, the colour purple is used to signify the season of Advent. The purple candles signify repentance and the royalty of Christ. On the third Sunday, the colour is sometimes changed to pink or rose: to either represent Mary or more general rejoicing. The white candle signifies purity and light. In Catholic churches, purple is the main liturgical colour for vestments and hangings during Advent. Many of the Churches host their own services to mark the advent season, comprising of traditional readings, Advent carols and music. There are some Christmas Carols that are really Advent Carols! These include ‘People Look East’, ‘Come, thou long expected Jesus’, ‘Lo! He comes, with clouds descending’ and perhaps the most popular Advent song ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel!’.