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For denominations that celebrate Advent, the holiday marks the beginning of the church’s liturgical year. Advent is primarily observed in churches that adhere to an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons, feasts, memorials, fasts, and holy days. Those churches include Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican / Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian.
The season of Advent is a period of both repentance and celebration. Christians spend time in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Believers remember not only the Lord’s first coming to earth as a human baby but also celebrate his continued presence with us today through the Holy Spirit. Advent is also a time for worshipers to anticipate his return at the Second Coming of Christ.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin term “adventus” which means “arrival” or “coming,” particularly the arrival of something or someone of great significance.
In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30 (the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle in the Catholic tradition). Consequently, in Western Churches, the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.
The season of Advent lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last or fourth Sunday of Advent.
In Eastern Orthodox churches, which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days, rather than 4 weeks.
Advent Calendar Dates for 2020
- November 29 – First Sunday of Advent
- December 6 - Second Sunday of Advent
- December 13 – Third Sunday of Advent
- December 20 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Candles of the Advent Wreath
The lighting of an Advent Wreath is a traditional custom that originated in Germany in the 16th-century. On the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple and one pink candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple (or violet) candle is lit. This is called the “Prophecy Candle” and recalls the prophets, particularly Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. It represents hope or expectation of the coming Messiah.
Each Sunday following, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle called the “Bethlehem Candle,” is lit. This candle represents love and symbolizes Christ’s manger.
On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink (or rose) candle is lit. This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” The change from purple to pink signifies the transition in season from repentance to celebration. The pink candle is called the “Shepherds Candle” and represents joy.
The last purple candle is called the “Angels Candle,” It is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent and represents peace.
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, the white center candle is lit. This “Christ Candle” represents the life of Jesus Christ that has come to light the world. It represents purity.