Season of Advent
The season of advent (Latin Adventus, sc. Redemptoris, " the coming of the Saviour "), is a holy season of the Christian church, the period of preparation for the celebration of the nativity or Christmas. It is the beginning of the Christian year.
In Eastern Orthodox churches -where it is also called Winter Lent- it lasts 40 days, beginning on November 15, and in other churches from the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew's Day (30th of November) till Christmas. It is uncertain at what date the season, began to be observed. A canon of a council at Saragossa in 380, forbidding the faithful to be absent from church during the three weeks from the 17th of December to the Epiphany, is thought to be an early reference to Advent. The first authoritative mention of it is in the Synod of Lerida (524), and since the 6th century it has been recognized as the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Christ as Saviour, and to his second coming as Judge, special lessons are prescribed for the four Sundays in Advent. From the 6th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent; but in the Anglican and Lutheran churches the rule is now relaxed. In the Roman Catholic church Advent is still kept as a season of penitence. Dancing and festivities are forbidden, fasting enjoined and (in accordance with the symbolism of liturgical colours) purple vestments are worn in the church services.
In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which even still survive. Thus in England, especially the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry round the "Advent images," two dolls dressed to represent Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited, and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.
In Normandy farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops. In Italy among other Advent celebrations is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of the Mary, the mother of Jesus . The Italian tradition is that the shepherds played on these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to do homage to the Messiah.
An advent wreath is a ring of evergreen cuttings surrounding or integrating four candles, used for a non-liturgical devotion by some Christians during the season of Advent. Three of the candles are violet-colored, and one is rose-colored. On the first evening of Advent (a Saturday), one violet candle is lit. On successive Saturdays, the second violet candle is added, then the rose candle, and finally, the third violet candle.
The wreath is meant to represent God's eternity. The violet candles symbolize faithful expectation, and the rose candle joy and hope
An Advent calendar is a symbol of the holy season of Advent, celebrated in December near Christmas, another holiday season.
The calendar consists of 24 doors or pockets, with one opened each day starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. Each compartment can either show a part of the Nativity story and the birth of Jesus Christ, or can simply display a piece of paraphernalia to do with Christmas (e.g. bells, holly). Such is the closeness of the two holidays that Christmas is now integrated into many Advent calendars.
Many calendars have been adapted by merchandisers and manufacturers to include a piece of chocolate or a sweet behind each compartment, aimed at children. These have often been criticised for not relating to the Nativity and simply cashing in on Christmas sales.
The number of doors can also increase to 25 or 26 to cover Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and further to 31 or 32 to include New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. This latter act was particularly evident over December 1999, counting down to January 1, 2000 and the start of the third millennium.
The Advent calendar is normally of standard dimensions, but can be found in other shapes, such as a model of a house. There are alternative forms of Advent calendar, such as those made from felt or other material, or a chain of candles that can be lit day by day.