What is Advent?
The Advent season which is celebrated over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day, is broken down into four themes…
Hope (or promise)
Preparation (waiting or prophecy)
The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839. The symbolism of the Advent wreath. The evergreen symbolizes everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle reminds us of God’s unending love and the eternal life that ONLY He makes possible. Advent candles are often nestled in the evergreen wreath.
Additional decorations, like holly and berries, are sometimes added pointing to the sacrifice and death of Jesus. Pinecones can symbolize the new life that Jesus brings through is resurrection.
The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red. Traditionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1).
During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was uniquely linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.