The word Advent is from the Latin adventus for “coming” and is associated with the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.
Since the 900s Advent has been considered the beginning of the Church year. This does not mean that Advent is the most important time of the year. Easter has always had this honor.
The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet which symbolizes the penitential spirit. Religious traditions associated with Advent express all these themes.
“Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles (advent candles). According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles (advent candles) may also be used” (Book of Blessings 1510).
The rose candle is lit the third Sunday of Advent, for this color anticipates and symbolizes the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice” (Latin, Gaudete). For this reason the Third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and rose color vestments are permitted.
The Advent Wreath represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, His historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, His final coming at the end of time, and His special coming in every moment of grace.
During Advent, family and friends can gather around the Advent Wreath lighting the appropriate candle(s), read from the daily Advent meditation and sing songs. The Church’s official Book of Blessings also provides a blessing ceremony for the advent wreath which can be used in the absence of a priest.
A personal calendar can be made for the four weeks before Christmas. On the calendar, a person can mark the Advent Calendar with personal goals of preparation or acts of service to be done for others.
This is a popular rendition of the Jesse Tree and is usually purchased in a religious goods store. It has windows to be opened each day during Advent, each displaying a feature of the coming of the Christ Child. On December 24 the door is opened, revealing the Nativity scene.