First Sunday Advent

Advent Sunday marks the first day of Western Christian churches’ liturgical year and the beginning of the Advent season. It falls between November 27 and December 3, four Sundays before Christmas. This is the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day. The Advent season lasts from 22 to 28 days. Some view the season as a Winter Lent.

A worldwide tradition is the giving of Advent calendars, which march the passing of each day with a cutout door on each day that can be pushed back to mark the passing of the day. Many calendars feature a treat or trinket behind the compartment. Especially in the United States, the Advent season is largely seen as a countdown to Christmas and preparation for the celebration. Some view it as an extended celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Many observers and priests will wear purple, blue, or red to Advent services and many churches will be decorated with cloth and flowers of these colors. This is because purple is considered a color of royalty, penitence, and fasting. Some may include the color pink, which symbolizes joy. Another common tradition is the Advent wreath, made of sticks, leaves, or fir. These wreaths are decorated with ribbons, threads, or ornaments and set on the table, especially when preparing for the Christmas season.

Traditions

There are not many other traditions associated with the day, as it largely marks the beginning of a season. But the season of Advent contains many traditions:

  • Preparation and mention of Christ’s second coming
  • Special musical services. Popular events include the Nine Lessons and Carols and the Hendel’s Messiah oratorio. Many observers will sing the Advent Prose.
  • Fastingβ€”Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox still observe fasts before Christmas, which usually last around 40 days.
  • Cultural celebrations, especially in Italy, may give bagpipe performances before Mary’s shrine.
  • Lighting Advent candles each Sunday, which symbolize the four Sundays of the season.

Background

The season’s name comes from the latin word adventus, or “coming.” This refers to both Jesus’s long awaited birth and his future second coming. The exact origins of the season are unknown. Some believe that centuries ago, the celebration of St. Martin on November 11th had evolved into a fast that was observed until Christmas. The tradition was the shortened and excluded the fasting, although some churches still observe a fast. In early celebrations, poor women would carry dolls symbolizing Jesus and Mary called Advent images. It was considered bad luck to not donate money to these women by Christmas Eve.

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