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Advent - The Season before Christmas

Advent is a holy season of the Church, celebrated before Christmas. Read on to learn more about this time.

According to the Christian church, the time before Christmas is meant to be spent preparing for the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the festival of Christmas. This time is referred to as Advent and is celebrated in churches throughout the world. The entire period of Advent lasts for 40 days. It concludes on December 24 i.e. Christmas Eve.

Significance of Advent

Advent is derived from the Latin word 'Adventus', which means coming. Advent has a dual significance. It is primarily to remember the Hebrews or Israelites who waited for their saviour to be born. Advent is also celebrated to enable today's Christians to prepare themselves for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The second coming has various interpretations among Christian denominations. Most common interpretations sum it up as an event that will fulfil aspects of Messianic prophecy. The prophecy includes the general resurrection of the dead, last judgment of the dead and the living and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth (also called the "Reign of God"), including the Messianic Age.

Traditions Associated with Advent

Advent lasts for around four weeks and always includes four Sundays, which are termed as Advent Sundays. On each Sunday, a special candle is lit, which has its own theme. The first Sunday of Advent is usually reserved for the theme of hope. It may also include a segment dealing with biblical prophecies regarding the second coming of the Lord. The other three Sundays usually deal with themes that focus on the festival of Christmas itself. Some examples are peace, joy, love, compassion, etc. On Christmas Eve, a fifth candle is lit. This candle is white or gold, and is called as Christ's candle. It is lit to signify the birth of Jesus Christ.

Generally, the colour of the candles on the first, second, and fourth Sundays is purple or blue. The colour of the candle lit on the third Sunday is often red or pink. This is because this Sunday is celebrated as Gaudette Sunday. This is a day of joy since the arrival of the Lord is near. The Advent colours influence even the priest's robes. During the period of Advent, a priest wears violet-coloured robes. Only on the third Sunday, he wears rose-coloured robes to mark Gaudette Sunday.

During Advent, the liturgy is based on the specific themes. The theme for the mass, the readings, gospel, and sermon are chosen accordingly.

Advent Celebrations

The first Sunday of Advent is considered to be the beginning of the Christian liturgical year as per the Western Christian calendar. This calendar is followed in most countries of the world. Some eastern European countries follow the Eastern Christian calendar, where the liturgical year begins in the first week of September.

Advent traditionally begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Therefore, the first Sunday of Advent must always be between November 27 and December 3. The season concludes on Christmas Eve. If this day falls on Sunday, then Christmas Eve is considered as the fourth Sunday of Advent.

In Roman Catholic churches, priests wear robes of a deep purple colour during Advent. On the third Sunday, they wear red-coloured robes to celebrate the joyous coming of Christ. In some churches belonging to other Christian denominations, priests wear blue robes rather than purple. This is because they follow the Sarum rite rather than the Roman one.

In the fourth century, Advent began to be declared as a period of fasting, similar to that carried out during Lent. In some areas, fasting began on November 11, the day of St. Martin of Tours. Hence, the fasting at Advent also came to be known as St. Martin's fast or the forty days of St. Martin. In modern times, the church has relaxed its rules and fasting during Advent is no longer compulsory. However, this period is still considered to be one of repentance.

In the weekdays between December 17 and December 24, Advent antiphons are sung during the evening prayer in church. An antiphon is a response sung in the form of a Gregorian chant. These antiphons form the basis for the Advent hymn 'O come Emmanuel'.

Most people tend to focus only on Christmas day. However, the celebration of Advent is what gives meaning to the true joy of Christmas.

Have you heard about the period of Advent? Do you know of any traditions associated with this time? To share your views and experiences, click here.

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