Advent. The season of Advent is an annual period of preparation for the coming of the promised savior, Jesus Christ. In the West, the liturgical year begins with Advent and it lasts twenty-one to twenty-eight days, beginning with Advent Sunday (Levavi), the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Its name is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”. This has a two-fold meaning, as the purpose is to both commemorate the First Coming and prepare for the Second Coming.
The Nativity Fast. The Eastern Church celebrates a similar forty-day Nativity Fast that begins with the Feast of Saint Philip on November 14th and ends on the Eve of the Nativity on December 24th. Practices are different than in the West, more closely resembling Lent, and are not the focus of this page.
How To Celebrate
Advent Calendar. The Advent Calendar is a 19th Century German invention. Over time, various methods were used to count down the days until Christmas, but the most familiar form used today is a two-layer wooden or cardboard calendar constructed such that twenty-four little doors on the decorated outer layer conceal pictures or writings on the inner layer that pertain to the First Coming of the Lord. One door is opened each day in December before Christmas Day. Those serious about observance will avoid the secular varieties and may choose to make calendars for their children by hand before the season begins.
Advent Wreath. The Advent Wreath is another way to count down the season of Advent, this time by lighting one candle each week of the season. Like the Advent Calendar, the Advent Wreath was probably invented, at least in its modern form, in 19th Century Germany. Some early examples included four white candles to represent Sundays and nineteen red candles to represent the other days. The current standard is four weekly candles, the third being rose in color (for Gaudete Sunday) and the remaining three being violet, all of which coincide with the liturgical colors used in the Western Church. The lighting of candles, either weekly or daily, is usually accompanied by some form of devotion, typically prayers and readings from Scripture. An optional white candle in the center of the wreath, called “the Christ candle”, is lit on Christmas Eve or Day in some observances. The evergreen wreath and accumulation of light symbolize spiritual endurance and the anticipation of the coming Christ as the light of the world respectively.
[Two variations are worthy of note. Blue candles are popular as this color was once used in the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite, in England in particular; however, the use of Sarum blue liturgically is no longer authorized. Some Orthodox believers have adapted the Western standard, adding two candles to represent the additional weeks of the Nativity Fast.]
A daily Advent Wreath Service is available, based on the Evening Prayer Service on page 109 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Nativity Scene or Crèche. The Nativity scene is a reproduction, usually in miniature, of the stable in Bethlehem where the infant Jesus was born and visited by shepherds, the Magi, and others. Two traditions of “building up” the Nativity scene are popular. The first involves adding the characters to the scene in the order they would have entered the real stable, beginning with the animals, Mary and Joseph, etc. The infant Jesus is added on Christmas Day and the Magi at Epiphany. The second involves adding a piece of straw for each good deed performed by the children in the household.
Advent House. This is a combination of an Advent Calendar and Nativity Scene. Twenty-four windows on the exterior of the house open to reveal scenes related to the First Coming and a twenty-fifth window or door reveals the Nativity.
Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree helps us remember important people and events from Old Testament Scripture. Symbols representing each person, such as a ram to represent Isaac and a ladder for Jacob for example, are sewn or constructed from paper, and though there doesn’t seem to be any standard, many Jesse Tree ornaments are white in color. The ornaments can be added daily, accompanied by Scripture readings about the persons they represent.
Ad Te Levavi. Ad te levávi ánimam meam, Deus meus, in te confído, non erubéscam. To Thee have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed. These are the first words of the Intoit for the first Sunday of Advent.
O Antiphons. The O Antiphons are said or sung during Vespers (or Evening Prayer) between December 17th and December 23rd. There are seven antiphons, one for each day.
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