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Don't Start Christmas without Advent: Here's Everything You Need to Know!

Nov 24, 2017 By Gretchen Filz

WHAT IS ADVENT?

Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year for the Catholic Church. The date for the beginning of Advent falls each year on the Sunday closest to November 30th - the feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle. Advent means 'to come to' and it is a call to readiness for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Read next: St. Andrew’s Christmas Novena Begins November 30th!

HOW IS ADVENT DIFFERENT FROM CHRISTMAS?

Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that Advent is part of the Christmas celebration. In fact, Advent is a separate time of preparation all its own. For the Catholic Church, Christmas doesn't begin until the first Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Christmas feast celebrations continue until Epiphany on January 6th, with the longer Christmas liturgical season ending on the feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

Advent is given to us as a time to prepare our souls for the coming of the Lord. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. In modern times we are tempted to skip over the penitential aspects of Advent and focus on the joy of Christmas. This is a great tragedy. Focusing only on the joy denies the truth: the Christ Child is our Lord and Savior who will suffer and die for our salvation.

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ADVENT?

Originally, Advent was celebrated over forty days, just like the Lenten season. This has now been shortened to four weeks, but the symbolism remains. You may notice another similarity to Lent when you attend Mass; although we still sing the Alleluia before the Gospel reading, we no longer sing the song of the angels - the Gloria. We will sing this song anew with the angels on Christmas day - just as they did over 2000 years ago.

The Scripture readings during Mass remind us of all the prophecies that point to the Lord's coming. We are called to keep watch and to leave behind our sinful ways. We also hear the recurring theme of a light shining through darkness. In Isaiah 60:19 we are reminded of this promise:

"The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory."

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE ADVENT WREATH?

Since circles have no beginning and no end, the circular shape of the Advent Wreath is used to symbolize God the Father and eternal life. The wreath holds four candles which are lit over the four weeks of Advent. The light of the flame is a visual reminder that Christ is "The Light of the World" (John 8:12). There are three violet (purple) candles and one rose candle, each representing 1,000 years. Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity waited for the Savior.

White Poinsettia Advent Wreath

WHY ARE ADVENT CANDLES PURPLE AND PINK?

Violet is a liturgical color that is used to signify a time of penance, sacrifice, and prayer. During the first, second, and the fourth weeks of Advent we light violet candles. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. On this day we celebrate that our waiting for Christmas is almost over. Rose is a liturgical color that is used to signify joy, so we light the rose candle on the third Sunday of Advent.

The 4 Weeks of Advent

Traditionally, each of the four candles on an Advent wreath has their own meaning. These meanings are simply illustrated in The Four Weeks of Advent Pewter Advent Wreath.

  • The first Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the Prophet's Candle reminding us that Jesus is coming.

  • The second Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the Bethlehem Candle reminding us of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem.

  • The third Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the Shepherd's Candle reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.

  • The fourth Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace with the Angel's Candle reminding us of the message of the angels: "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men."

When Advent Wreaths are decorated the materials often have symbolic meaning. The use of evergreens reminds us of our eternal life with Christ, holly represents the crown of thorns from the Passion of Jesus, and pinecones symbolize Christ's Resurrection.

HOW CAN WE INVOLVE CHILDREN WITH ADVENT?

Advent is a great way to keep children focused on preparing for the coming of the Baby Jesus instead of on materialistic desires. Each new week of Advent begins at Mass with the lighting of a new candle on the parish Advent Wreath. Our parish family is connected to our personal family when we light our own Advent Wreath at home. Explain to your children the meaning of this week's candle and what they should focus on during the coming week.

Advent Symbolism

A fun way to keep kids involved is to take your children out on a nature hunt to gather the holly, berries, evergreen, and pinecones to decorate the Advent Wreath. Explain to them the Christian symbolism of each item and then let them arrange the items on your wreath. Please keep in mind that the items may become flammable as they dry out. Before using your collected items you can soak them in water or find a craft spray that is fire resistant. Also be aware that many of the berries found on plants this time of year are poisonous for children and pets, so please use caution (or pick out silk decorations from your favorite craft store).

Wooden Heirloom Advent Calendar

Advent Calendars

Another great way to get your kids involved is an Advent Calendar. Most calendars feature a bright and colorful nativity scene at the Bethlehem stable and includes 24 windows. Each window opens to reveal a passage from the Bible that tells the inspiring nativity story. Also, some contain a surprise of little piece of chocolate candy. Children can prepare for Christmas by opening a window each day during Advent.

Another idea comes from Eileen W. a customer from Virginia. Eileen shared this Advent family tradition:

"When my two brothers and I were children, every night before we opened the Advent Calendar door we had to recite a little poem my dad and a friend made up:

'Let us remember as we play this Christmas game / It was a night so long ago that baby Jesus came.'

It was a neat way of making the calendar a little prayer. My own children do this now and they, too, love the tradition. They think it's really neat that Uncle Pat, Uncle Mike and I used to say the exact same prayer each night. I've passed this little prayer on to many of my friends and am happy to share it with all of you as well."

If you have loved Advent traditions in your family, please share them below!

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2013. ©  The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.

Comments

Peggy says
Nov 30 2017 8:17PM
Thank you Gretchen for sharing. I've learnt the real meaning of Advent. Since last year I've started the tradition of lighting the candles.

This year I'll decorate my advent wreath with materials that have more symbolic meanings.

God Bless.
Dahlia Verba says
Nov 26 2017 4:53AM
Lovely message. Thank you for sharing. Godbless
Mel Donaldson says
Nov 26 2017 3:30AM
Thank you very much now I know fully well the significance of Advent and Christmas. Very good to know so informative. ..
Ashley says
Nov 25 2017 9:48PM
Each year since my kiddos were small we gather round and read from Ann Voskamp's, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. We have added her new interactive advent calendar to our tradition this year and are anticipating it's start.
Greg Bonney says
Nov 25 2017 7:18PM
Advent's 4th week falls on Christmas Eve this year. We go to Christmas Eve Mass to Celebrate Christmas or Advent or both?
Hi Greg, this year we have both the Sunday obligation on December 24th (or the Saturday vigil) as well as the Christmas Holy Day obligation on December 25th. So we do have to go to Mass twice!
Carolyn Wood says
Nov 25 2017 6:39PM
I have a question, do we light the Advent Candle only on Sunday's or every night during that particular week?
Hi Carolyn, you can do either. The first day to light a new candle is on Sunday, but if you want to keep the candles lit during the week also you can do so (if they last that long). If you want to keep the candles lit during the week as well, you might want to consider buying two sets.
Maria says
Nov 25 2017 1:42PM
We have special advent Sunday dinners on the 4 Sundays of Advent. We place the Advent wreath at the center of table and pray and light the candle. We turned off all the lights of the house and eat by candlelight. When the kids were younger they commented on the fact that it was hard to see with just one candle lit but as the weeks went by they noticed the room was brighter and it became a reminder to them that Jesus, the light of the world would soon be here. The kids are grown now and they don't always make it to our Sunday dinners but that memory has helped them remember the real reason for the season.
Maureen Verone says
Nov 25 2017 12:14PM
When my children were little I started a tradition. We would put up the stable of our nativity and the animals. Put in the manger. But Mary and Joseph were in the far corner of the room. Each week they traveled closer. On Christmas eve they made it to the stable. But baby Jesus was put in after all were in bed. So Christmas morning they ran to see baby Jesus as well as what Santa brought them.
Elenor Foreman says
Nov 24 2017 8:34PM
Thank you now I know the true meaning of Advent. It is beautiful.
fr.baltharaj says
Nov 26 2015 10:20AM
Wonderful message thank u Gretchen
delila says
Nov 18 2013 10:27AM
this information it will be awesome for my kids. I teach CCD @ St Joseph Church @ Donna, Texas

God bless You all

thank you,
Kelvin Bwalya says
Nov 13 2013 12:13PM
This information is very informative. Kindly shade some light on the "JESSE TREE" which I have seen in some parishes.

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Commentary by

Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

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