Advent: Western Christians begin season of preparations for Christ’s birth

Advent wreath, lit, all candles

Photo by Bruce / Starfish, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3: Advent wreaths glow and the anticipation of Jesus’s birth begins as Western Christians around the world begin the season of Advent. In the four Sundays leading to Christmas, many Christians light a new candle on the wreath. Often, these wreaths are a part of congregational worship during this season—but many families also make their own wreaths at home.

One unusual question in 2023 is: At what time of day will families light the fourth and fifth candles? That’s an issue this year, because the final Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve.

ADVENT: MEANING AND TRADITION

For Western Christians, Advent focuses on both the ancient arrival of Jesus and the Second Coming; on both spiritual longing and alertness. Most churches are draped in purple and/or blue during the Advent season, representing penitence and hope.

Did you know? Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—the Eastern equivalent of the Western Advent—on November 15. The Nativity Fast lasts 40 days, and incorporates prayer and strict fasting.

Each Sunday during Advent, a new candle is lit on the Advent wreath. Typically, an Advent wreath is fashioned of evergreens and contains three purple candles and one rose one, with an optional white pillar candle at its center. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and the white candle may be lit on Christmas Eve. (Tradition varies: in Protestant churches, candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, blue candles are common.)

Origins of the Advent wreath are believed to be Germanic, though opinions vary. The wreath’s circular nature now represents the eternity of God, and the increasing glow of the candles symbolizes a people previously living in spiritual darkness and, at last, witnessing the coming of the Light of the World. Advent calendars and Jesse Trees have also gained popularity of use during this Christian season.

Make a DIY Advent wreath, with information on structuring a base, candle-holders, greens and decorations at Catholic Culture.

Create a chic Advent calendarno matter what your taste—with the multitude of ideas suggested by Martha Stewart. For more ideas, check out Country Living and House Beautiful.

Blessings for the Advent wreath, for a Christmas tree and more are at the official site for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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