What is Advent?

A Brief Overview of the Christian Season of Advent

By Laura D Lewis


Advent and Advent Calendars have been a favourite tradition in Europe for centuries. Advent Calendars come in many forms, the most common being a paper version with windows that correspond to a particular day, which children open to see a picture inside. Other forms include candy or little drawers with coins. The purpose of the Advent Calendar is to count down the days until the birth of the Messiah by marking each day with an event designed to remind each of the upcoming miracle.




Typical Advent Calendars from top left clockwise: Drawers for toys or coins, themed box with candy, Storybook Advent Calendar and traditional paper calendar with windows.

Storybook Advent Calendar was created to tap into two traditions of Advent. One is the preparation of His coming through the reading of scripture and inspirational passages that remind us of what we're celebrating and the other is the children's tradition of using a calendar to mark each day before Christmas with a treat. In the case of the Storybook Advent Calendar the treat is a bedtime story rather than a picture, toy, coin or piece of candy.

Advent is derived from the Latin advenio and means ‘to come to’ since the season is about preparing for the arrival of the Messiah, the birth of Jesus Christ. It is common, especially in the Catholic and Lutheran Churches, for children to have an Advent Calendar beginning December 1st to mark off the days until Christmas. Eastern Orthodox faiths begin Advent on November 15th but Western churches celebrate Advent during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Modern work weeks have meant that Advent more often signifies the beginning of the Christmas shopping and Christmas party season with the festivities ending on New Year's Day, but many will withhold celebrations until Christmas Eve since, in times past, Advent was a time of preparation, fasting and solemn remembrance. This is one reason why many Christian families will wait until Christmas Eve to put up their tree and have Christmas music played only during Christmastide to go with the tradition that holiday parties and gifts didn't begin until after Christmas. It makes for the Christmas Dinner or Feast being such an important concern. It marked the end of fasting and the commencement of the celebrations.


or Advent Crown

This is one Christmas tradition that is similar to the lighting of the menorah in Judaism at Hanukah, but the reason and purpose for lighting the candles couldn't be further apart.

Whereas the menorah is lit to mark the eight days lamp oil lasted during a war that allowed the Israelites to recapture and re-consecrate their temple, the Advent wreath, with its four candles (three purple and one rose) in a circle surrounded by evergreens represents the hope and anticipation of the Messiah’s birth.

The Advent wreath originated in Germany and began as a Lutheran tradition but was quickly adopted by the Catholic and Anglican Churches. It involves four candles positioned in a circle and surrounded by evergreen branches and decor. Often, a large taper candle is added in the centre for lighting the other candles. The color of the four candles is important: three purple or blue and one rose.

The Advent Wreath is quite prominent in Christmas celebrations today, though often, especially for those outside the Catholic and Lutheran faiths, Christians don't realize these are meant to be lit week by week. Many simply believe they are a centerpiece for a table. If you're looking for a tradition to introduce your family to this year, the Advent Wreath, created over Thanksgiving Weekend (US), is a great one to start


On the first Sunday of Advent (in 2010 this falls on Thanksgiving weekend, November 28th), one purple candle is lit each night of the week. On the second Sunday, a second purple candle is lit with the first and the two candles burn together until the third Sunday when the rose candle, representing Gaudete, is lit. These three candles carry through each night until the final Sunday of Advent when all four candles are lit. Then the fun and feasting begins!


The period from Christmas Day through January 6th is called Christmastide and commemorated in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.


Significance of the Epiphany: January 6th is known as Epiphany and is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar because it changed the entire dynamic of God's blessing and favour. It was on this day, the twelfth day of Christmas, the three kings from Persia (Iran & Syria today), pagans to that point, visited the Christ child.


This action extended Christ's salvation beyond the Hebrews to include the Gentiles and ushered in the first glimpses of the new covenant fulfilled with the birth, death and resurrection of the Messiah. It is the beginning of Choosing God by choosing a relationship with Him through Christ rather that being Chosen because of your parent's ancestry. This choice is confirmed through baptism, confirmation and communion.

Advent Tidbits


Colours of Advent:
Purple or Blue, with Rose for the third Sunday only.

Days of Advent:

Traditionally November 28th (or November 15th, Eastern Orthodox) - December 25th.

Christmastide begins December 25th through January 6th. Modern day practices have Advent beginning December 1st and ending December 25th.


Songs of Advent

O Come, O Come Emmanuel


Twelve Days of Christmas .
This song is traditionally played from Christmas day through to Epiphany and marks the end of fasting and the beginning of twelve days of feasting and festivity.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16