The Christmas season officially starts in many churches this weekend with the beginning of Advent.
Here are a few things to know about the season.
1. Advent has a different start date each year
Despite the fact that most people associate the beginning of the Advent season with Dec. 1, the official dates of the season actually change each year.
An anticipatory recognition of the “second coming of Christ,” in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist traditions; Advent is the period of time preceding Christmas, beginning on whatever Sunday is nearest to Nov. 30. Because start dates vary, so does the length of each Advent season.
This year, Advent officially begins Dec. 2 and ends Christmas Eve. In Eastern Orthodox churches, however, Advent begins Nov. 15, and lasts 40 days.
2. Spiritual beginnings
The word advent, from Latin adventus, means “the coming,” and is often considered a time of spiritual reflection and anticipation. Advent was not routine until the fourth century when Roman Emperor Constantine commemorated Dec. 25 as Christ’s official birthday. In Christian tradition, Advent is typically a season of prayer, repentance and fasting followed by celebration and joy.
3. Advent has a traditional color
While many of us associate this time of year with the colors red and green, it turns out that purple is the color most associated with Advent. Why purple? Well, it seems that in Christianity, purple symbolizes repentance and fasting.
Some churches and families make advent wreaths, which include three purple candles and one pink candle. One new candle is to be lit each week in the order of purple, purple, pink (to symbolize joyous anticipation of Christmas), and then the final purple. Today however, in an effort to distinguish Advent from Lent, many churches have begun to use the color blue.
4. The Advent calendar is a relatively modern invention
The Advent calendar is a device of early 19th-century German Lutherans who used the calendar to count down to Christmas Day. While evidence varies, according to the Landesmuseum of Lower Austria, the first known Advent calendar was made by hand in 1851, while the first printed Advent calendar was produced in Hamburg, Germany in 1902 or 1903. Other sources assert that that a Swabian parishioner, Gerhard Lang, was responsible for the first printed calendar, in 1908.
Advent calendars can be found in a number of grocery stores and bookstores, and range from traditional, to one containing chocolates, to even a LEGO Advent calendar.
5. Advent calendar production ceased during WWII
During WWII, the European production of Advent calendars stopped in order to save paper; but after the war, the practice reappeared, only gaining in popularity in both religious and secular circles across Europe and North America. Advent calendars are still popular today.
- Hunt Archbold contributed to this story