What is Advent?

Our church is using an Advent wreath to celebrate the period of time leading up to Christmas. Some are wondering what Advent is and how this custom originated, so I thought it would be good to write a short article on Advent.

Advent Wreath“Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” We sometimes use this word today, as in “the advent of the Internet.” In this case it refers to the coming of Christ, and specifically to the period of time leading up to Christmas when we celebrate Christ’s birth. Advent officially begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. In churches that use a formal liturgical church calendar, Advent is the beginning of the Christian year because the Church begins with Christ. It is a celebration of Christ’s coming, and at the same time a preparation for His return.

Advent has a long history, reaching at least back to the 7th century when it was a solemn time of fasting similar to Lent. The use of an evergreen wreath and lighting candles dates back to pre-Christian northern Europe, where during the long dark winters people would decorate their houses with evergreen branches and light candles to remind themselves that the winter would come to an end and spring would arrive. Christians later adopted the evergreen wreath as a symbol of the coming of Christ.

The Advent wreath has four candles around the edges which are lit on the four Sundays of Advent. Each week an additional candle is lit, so that on the fourth Sunday all four are burning brightly, symbolizing the growing light of Christ’s coming. There is a larger white candle in the center called the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. Churches that do not have a service on Christmas Eve light the Christ candle on the fourth Sunday of Advent.  There various interpretations of the colors of the candles and the wreath (see the resources below for further information).

Christians in many different denominations celebrate Advent and use an Advent wreath.  It is also a Christian tradition that you can practice at home with your family.  (See the links below for suggestions as to how to do this.)  In the midst of a secular and materialistic focus on Christmas it serves as a helpful reminder of the real meaning of Christmas.  Let’s use the Advent season to reflect on the significance of Christ’s birth.

Resources on Advent

Here are some resources for further information about Advent. Most of the information in this article is taken from these sources.

  • The Season of Advent by Dennis Bratcher (Christian Research Institute)
  • Advent (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod)
  • Article on Advent by the Bible Resource Center
  • Advent by Noël Piper on Crosswalk.com
  • Wikipedia article on Advent

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis