The Advent season is almost upon us. You likely associate Advent with Christmas and the fun calendars with the hidden windows, but what is Advent and when did it start? Historically, Advent is more than just a period leading up to Christmas. It’s steeped in significant Christian traditions. Let’s look at the meaning of Advent and how it relates to Christians and Lutherans today.
When Does Advent Start?
The date that Advent starts varies from year to year. The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and always ends on Christmas Eve. This means that Advent begins in late November or early December.
Each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas celebrates a different Christian ideal or value depending on the church and country celebrating. Advent 2022 starts on Sunday, Nov. 27th and ends on Saturday, Dec 24th. If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Advent with your family, there is a lot of history and tradition to pull from.
What is Advent?
Advent is derived from the Latin word “adventus” or “coming.” From a Christian standpoint, this can be interpreted in three ways: the birth of Christ, the second coming of Christ and the coming of Christ into the heart of the believer. It symbolizes the church in its last days awaiting the return of Christ. It has historically been a time for both reflection and anticipation.
Advent as we know it is a celebration of the season leading up to Christmas – but it wasn’t always so cut and dry. The earliest records of Advent portray it as a time of prayer and fasting. In the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians during the January feast of the Epiphany. By the 6th century, Roman Christians began to link Advent to the coming of Christ. At the Council of Tours in 567, monks were ordered to fast every day leading up to Christmas. By the Middle Ages, Advent was firmly established as a period of Christian celebration that involved some form of fasting and prayer. Every country and region treated the season slightly differently and as a result, we have a variety of traditions and practices today.
Celebrating Advent: Common Traditions
Over the years many traditions and variations of those traditions have evolved around Advent. As you explore how you wish to celebrate Advent, consider the ways people – past and present – have celebrated the season.
The most well known Advent tradition is the calendar. The Advent calendar began in Germany in the 19th century as a way of marking the days leading up to Christmas. Early calendars carried the message of anticipation and hope associated with Christ’s coming. The first printed versions of the Advent calendar appeared in the early 1900s. Today you see a wide variety of Advent calendars. There are the popular secular versions that appeal to children but consider a more traditional style calendar that offers daily messages of hope and prayer. Calendars that offer daily reminders about the coming of Christ can elevate your spiritual connection to the season.
The advent wreath, or crown, varies from country to country and church to church but was originated by Lutherans. Typically it is made from evergreen boughs formed into a wheel shape with four colored candles nestled within it. The boughs represent eternal life and the candles represent the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The Lutheran Advent wreath usually has purple or blue candles that represent hope, faith, joy and peace. Each Sunday a different candle is lit to celebrate these values.
The Christmas tree as we know it began in 16th century Germany. Before that, ancient Egyptians and Romans used palm fronds and evergreen branches for their religious celebrations. In the 1950s, American Lutherans adapted the Chrismon tree. A Chrismon is an ancient symbol for Christ. Chrismon trees were traditionally decorated with celtic crosses, fish, and shepherd’s crooks. Adding more religious imagery to your tree is a festive way to celebrate Advent.
Music has become well associated with the holiday season. For Advent, certain hymns stand out including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World.” Use music as a way to connect with the spiritual aspects of the Advent season.
Prayer is an important practice for Christians all year. During Advent, reflect on the coming of Christ and his resurrection. This is the perfect time of year to remember the ways that Christ came into the world and how he remains with each of us in a unique and personal way.
Celebrating Advent Together
There may be no single way to celebrate Advent but savoring the season with a loving church community ranks at the top. Join King of Kings Lutheran church this year to learn more about what Advent means and how we can celebrate this holy season. The coming of Christ changed the world forever. Spending four Sundays together could change your life.