Learn the meaning, origin, and customs of Advent.
Celebrating Advent involves spending time in spiritual preparation for the coming birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. In Western Christianity, the season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24.
Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope, and joy.
Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of the age.
The word advent comes from the Latin term adventus meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly the coming of something having great importance. Advent season, then, is both a time of joy-filled, anticipatory celebration of the arrival of Jesus Christ and a preparatory period of repentance, meditation, and penance.
The Time of Advent
For denominations that celebrate the season, Advent marks the beginning of the church year.
In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last or fourth Sunday of Advent. Thus, the actual season of Advent can last anywhere from 22-28 days, but most commercial Advent calendars start on December 1.
For Eastern Orthodox churches that use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks (in a parallel to the 40 days of Lent prior to Easter). Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity.
Denominations That Celebrate
Advent is primarily observed in Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days. These denominations include Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican / Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
Nowadays, however, more and more Protestant and Evangelical Christians are recognizing the spiritual significance of Advent, and have begun to revive the spirit of the season through serious reflection, joyful expectation, and through observing traditional Advent customs.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of fasting and preparation for Epiphany, rather than in anticipation of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the wise men and, in some traditions, the Baptism of Jesus. Sermons focused on the wonder of the Lord’s Incarnation or becoming a man. At this time new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40-day period of fasting and repentance.
Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate this season of Advent with the coming of Christ. Originally it was not the coming of the Christ-child that was anticipated, but the Second Coming of Christ.
By the Middle Ages, four Sundays had become the standard length of the Advent season, with fasting and repentance during that time. The church also extended the meaning of Advent to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit.
Modern-day Advent services include symbolic customs related to all three of these “advents” of Christ.
Advent Calendar 2021
First Sunday of Advent (Sunday, November 28, 2021)
Second Sunday of Advent (Sunday, December 5, 2021)
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Monday, December 6, 2021)
Immaculate Conception (Wednesday, December 8, 2021)
Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) (Sunday, December 12, 2021)
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Sunday, December 12, 2021)
Feast of Saint Lucy (Monday, December 13, 2021)
Fourth Sunday of Advent (Sunday, December 19, 2021)
Christmas Eve (Friday, December 24, 2021)
Christmas (Saturday, December 25, 2021)