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8 things you may not know about Advent (w/video)

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 6, 2013 at 6:06 a.m.

Father Gary Janak delivers a special advent service to churchgoers  at Our Lady of Victory Cathedral. "Advent is those four weeks of preparing ourselves, not just our homes for the festivities of Christmas, but four weeks in which we spend preparing ourselves spiritually so we can understand what Christmas really means," he said of these season.

The season of Advent, observed by millions of Christians around the world, celebrates the arrival of the birth of Jesus.

In the days before Christmas, Eastern and Western churches, Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant bodies may observe Advent with fasting, prayer, candle lighting and accenting the sanctuary with green and purple.

Not every Christian will observe the Advent season, but for those who do, it's a joyous four weeks before Christmas.

Here are eight things to know about the season of Advent:

  1. The word Advent derives from the Latin word "ad-venire," or "to come to."

  2. Catholics and some Protestant denominations, including Lutherans and Anglicans, begin observing Advent the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

  3. For Eastern Orthodox churches, which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, Nov. 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks. Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, Advent is observed in mid-November.

  4. Advent in the fourth and fifth century was not a preparation season for Christmas. It was a 40-day preparation season for Epiphany, which celebrated events in Jesus' life like his baptism and the miracle at Cana and provided an opportunity for new Christians to be baptized.

  5. In the sixth century, Christians in Rome began connecting the season to the coming of Christ - not his birth, but his second coming. In the Middle Ages, the modern Advent season was adopted by the church to prepare for Christmas.

  6. The Advent wreath is a symbol of the season. There are three purple and one pink candle, representing the sanctuary colors of Advent. The light represents that God is the light of the world. The circular shape of the wreath represents God's endless mercy.

  7. The first candle to be lit on the wreath is known as the candle of expectation, hope or prophecy, anticipating the coming of the Anointed One. The center candle, the Christ Candle, is white and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

  8. On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink candle is lit. It symbolizes joy and shifts the tone of the first two Sundays from somber and reflective to a more joyous occasion.

SOURCE:,, Catholic Encyclopedia, Christian Resource Institute



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