Advent: A Season of Anticipation and Hope

Advent, which is derived from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming”, is the four-week period leading up to Christmas.

It begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30 and is observed in many Christian denominations as a time of spiritual preparation and anticipation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Historical Background of Advent

Advent is believed to have started in the late fourth century, although practices varied widely at first.

Some communities focused on the coming of Christ in the Nativity, while others used the season as a period of penance similar to Lent.

The current format of the four Sundays preceding Christmas was established by the sixth century.

close up of advent calendar
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Symbols and Traditions of Advent

1. Advent Calendar

Advent calendars are a popular tradition, especially for children.

Starting on December 1, a window is opened each day to reveal a picture, a piece of chocolate, or a small gift. This daily ritual heightens the anticipation of Christmas.

2. Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is another key symbol of the season.

This circular evergreen wreath often holds four candles, one for each week of Advent. Three candles are typically purple, representing prayer, penance, and preparation, while one is rose or pink, representing joy.

3. Advent Music

Advent is also marked by special hymns and songs.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is perhaps the best-known Advent hymn, its haunting melody and poignant lyrics capturing the longing and hope of the season.

Significance in Christian Liturgical Calendar

In the liturgical calendar of many Christian denominations, Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year.

The weekly readings in church services throughout Advent reflect themes of preparation, waiting, and hope, and often include prophetic passages from the Old Testament and Gospels.

Observances Across Denominations

While the basic theme of anticipating Christ’s coming unifies Advent observances, the specifics can vary among Christian denominations.

Some focus more on repentance, others on anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming, and others on social justice themes.

Many Protestant denominations, including Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists, observe Advent similarly to Roman Catholics, while some Reformed traditions, Baptist churches, and non-denominational churches may not emphasise Advent as strongly.

Influence of Advent on Culture and Society

Advent, though primarily a religious observance, also has cultural and societal implications.

It marks the beginning of the festive season, influencing music, decorations, shopping habits, and charitable giving.

Many cultural events, such as Christmas markets and town light switch-ons, coincide with the start of Advent.

The Spirit of Advent

Beyond the calendars, candles, and hymns, the essence of Advent is a sense of hope, anticipation, and preparation.

It encourages Christians to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s coming in history, their present lives, and the future.

As the world around begins to sparkle with lights and festivities, Advent invites people to kindle a light within and prepare their hearts for the celebration of Christmas.

Read more about Christmas Traditions and Customs