What is it?
Advent is the start of the Christmas season in Christian homes and churches. It is the time of expectant excitement and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, at Christmas. The term advent is derived from the Latin word meaning “coming”.
When is it?
Advent is the beginning of the western liturgical (public worship, church) year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November). In 2020 advent starts on Sunday 29th November (the first Sunday in Advent) and ends on Thursday 24th December. Christmas Day is Friday 25th December. The first Sunday of Advent is not a bank holiday in the United Kingdom. Churches (and shopping centers) would usually be busier as people prepare for Christmas – but not this year, as the U.K. is in full lockdown until 2nd December and entered tiered lockdown thereafter.
Advent calendars are in nearly every home in the U.K. at his time of year and commence on the 1st December. Children and adults alike enjoy advent calendars.
Some Christians attend special church services on the first Sunday in Advent. Some churches also hold a Christingle service for children and families. During a Christingle service, each child is presented with or carries a Christingle. The Christingle is an orange with a lighted candle with sweets.
Christians collect money and donations of food, clothes and other supplies to help support families facing violence, neglect or poverty in their daily lives. Many people put up Christmas decorations in their homes, schools and offices on or just after the first Sunday in Advent. Christmas cards are written and posted to family members and friends – even in this digital age. Everyone likes to receive the annual Christmas card- many now containing updates on family activities throughout the year.
This is also the time to bake a Christmas cake and store it for Christmas Day and some more adventurous cooks prepare the Christmas pudding. The Christmas lights in town centers, shopping centers and lights on large Christmas trees in public places are also turned on (usually in ceremonies, but not this year) in this week. The enormous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in London is an annual present from the Norwegians to express their gratitude for the UK’s support for their country during World War II.
An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count and celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. Advent calendars are a large rectangular piece of card incorporating 24 small numbered flaps or windows,one for each day of December leading up to and including Christmas Eve (December 24). A window is opened on each day of Advent. When I was a child it was a nativity scene and each window revealed a picture appropriate to the season, a poem, a portion of a Bible story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus). Just like the one above which I sourced from Marks & Spencer.
Today advent calendars contain a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. They are rarely of the nativity and mainly branded commercial items. The one pictured above is from The Body Shop. There are Advent calendars now specifically marketed for adults containing scented candles, make up, alcohol and many other items. They’re great – but I wish these could all be marketed along with the traditional Advent calendar…after all “Jesus is the reason for the season”!
The keeping of an advent wreath is also a common practice in homes or churches. These are groups of four candles with leaves and twigs from evergreen trees and plants. People light one candle on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third Sunday and all four on the fourth Sunday. Some people then continue to light all four candles during the Christmas period. It is now more popular to hang a Christmas wreath on the front door to a home; these wreaths do not have candles.
In the Church Of England the readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets. The third Sunday is celebrated with rose-colored vestments. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds. The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the announcement of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle. Where an advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and lit during the Christmas Eve service.
I wish everyone an enjoyable Advent. Enjoy the anticipation and excitement of the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour for all mankind.