What’s Advent?

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Advent is the four-week period leading up to Christmas, marking the beginning of the Christian year. It is a time of preparation and anticipation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians celebrate with special services, music, and decorations, using the colors purple or royal blue to symbolize the birth of a king. Fasting is common in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Advent reminds Christians of the Great Mystery and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. It offers a sense of peace and tranquility amidst the madness of the holiday season.

Adventus Redemptoris: the coming of the Savior. Now called Advent, these four weeks leading up to Christmas Day are among the most joyous of the Christian year. Indeed, the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year. These days preceding Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, are days of preparation and anticipation.

Adventus in Latin means “coming” and is the exact parallel of the Greek parouisa, which implies the second coming of Christ. Advent then reminds Christians of the Great Mystery: “Christ was born. Christ is risen. Christ will return.” Christians celebrate this time of waiting with special services, music and other reminders of a Church that pauses to once again await the birth of its Savior.

One of the oldest Advent hymns, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” dates back to the early centuries and is a perennial favorite, with its themes of light conquering darkness and freed prisoners. These are the main themes of Advent. Christians view the birth of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, so the season is commemorated with candles and scriptures of Old Testament messianic prophecies.

Christians celebrate their liturgical seasons with colors and the color of Advent is purple or royal blue, which symbolizes the birth of a king. Churches also use vestments, or altar cloths, in these colors. Churches also decorate for Advent, often with a hung Christmas tree with Christian symbols, an Advent wreath, greenery, and poinsettias. Children come to the fore these days, with Christmas programs, nativity scenes and Christmas parties.

In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, fasting is common, at least for a short time, to foster a sense of anticipation and joyous solemnity during this time. This sense is what makes Advent so special for Christians. In the midst of the madness that surrounds this time of year, Christians are called to stand still and remember how the Lord of all creation incarnated and was born as a human child in a stable in a backwater city in ancient Palestine.

The secular world may be caught up in the madness of the “holiday season,” but those who celebrate Advent can come to a place of peace and tranquility of preparation.

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