If you’ve ever wondered “What is Advent” or “What do people do for Advent” you’re not alone! Even though I’ve always recognized Advent as a special time of waiting, I still found myself stumbling over some of the basics each year, especially as my kids started to ask specific questions. Knowing I couldn’t be the only one, I decided to look it up and write a quick summary post so we could have all the “What is Advent” quick facts in one, easy spot. In this post, learn the basics of Advent for Christians and Catholics, along with some easy things you and your family can do for Advent. PLUS, I’m also sharing our Free Printable Advent Countdown Calendar, including Paper Chain Countdown Strips so don’t forget to download!
for as long as i can remember, my family has honored the 4 weeks leading up to Advent…in other words, i should be very familiar with the facts surrounding this time of waiting. but every year, i still have to remind myself of the basics.
i find myself trying to remember the small details about:
- what is Advent?
- who celebrates Advent?
- why does Advent last 4 weeks?
- why do we use an Advent wreath?
- what do the four Advent candle colors mean?
this is probably because like you, i am a busy Mom and sometimes specific details have a strange way of leaving my brain. it is also because though i might remember most of the reasons behind the Christian celebration of Advent, my own circumstances change from year to year, as i am sure yours do too.
so each year, Advent feels a little different.
i find that refreshing my understanding at the start of the season helps me center my heart on the grace and gratitude i seek each year in the wait. reconnecting with the basics of Advent helps remind me of the importance of this time of preparation. it inspires me to keep this at the front of my mind, despite the hustle & bustle of the season.
my hope is that this quick recap of Advent can help lead you into the Christmas season with your mind focused on the right things as you soak up all the blessings Advent has to offer!
What is Advent?
Advent is the period of time that lasts for 4 sundays leading up to Christmas. It is celebrated by Christians (people who believe Jesus is the son of God). the word Advent comes from from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”
What is the purpose of Advent?
in short, the purpose of Advent is to focus on the coming of the Lord. but the meaning and purpose of Advent has evolved over the years. intellectuals believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany.
during this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration. so in the beginning, Advent wasn’t closely connected to Christmas. (who knew!?)
by the 6th century, Roman Christians connected Advent to the coming of Christ. but not the BIRTH of Christ. the coming of Christ they were anticipating was the second coming as the judge of the world.
during the Middle Ages, the Advent season came to be linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
gradually, the Church formalized the celebration of Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. today, to balance both purposes of anticipation and remembrance, the first two Sundays in Advent look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays look backward to remember Christ’s first coming (and Sunday Scripture readings reflect this).
Why does Advent last 4 weeks?
initially, under Pope St. Gelasius, Advent liturgies were provided for five Sundays. later, Pope St. Gregory I composed prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses for the liturgies. Pope St. Gregory VII (born in 1095 ad) changed the number of Sundays in Advent to four.
around the the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year. it always falls between november 27th and december 3rd.
What religions participate in Advent?
Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed in most Christian denominations. anyone who is Christian can benefit spiritually and personally from participating in Advent.
it is meant as a time of waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus. there are countless ways to honor this season (see below!!). participation in Advent is not specific to any particular Christian religion, though some denominations might run more programs or participate in more group formats.
bottom line: if you are a Christian looking to grow in your faith, prayer life, and relationship with God, you can participate in Advent!
Why do we use an Advent wreath?
using an Advent wreath to mark each Sunday and each week of Advent is common in homes and churches. the idea behind the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century.
the modern Advent wreath, with its candles representing the Sundays of Advent, came later in 1839. in response to the impatience he observed in children as they waited for Christmas, Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany, created a ring of wood.
it had nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. each morning a small candle was lit, and each Sunday a large candle was lit. our modern customs have kept the tradition of the large candles.
What do the colors stand for on the Advent candles?
the four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday. the first, second, and fourth candles are purple. the color purple is a liturgical color that signifies a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice. not everyone uses the purple and pink candles on the Advent wreath but these are the most common colors associated with the Advent wreath.
here is the meaning behind each Advent candle:
- the 1st Sunday of Advent (purple candle) stands for Hope with the “Prophet’s Candle” reminding us that Jesus is coming.
- the 2nd Sunday of Advent (purple candle) represents Faith with the “Bethlehem Candle” reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
- the 3rd Sunday of Advent (pink candle) stands for Joy with the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.
- The 4th Sunday of Advent (purple candle) represents Peace with the “Angel’s Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
What do most people do for Advent?
there are many ways you can spend your time of waiting to prayerfully prepare your heart for the coming of Jesus. traditionally, families celebrate advent with an Advent calendar, Advent wreath, and daily devotions. here’s a quick summary of each.
many families us a version of an Advent calendar to countdown the days until Christmas. these calendars might have small gifts, Scripture readings, treats, or fun activities to help build up anticipation for the coming of Jesus.
our family uses this FREE Printable Advent Gratitude Countdown Calendar i designed to countdown the days, where the kids countdown the days until Christmas with one grateful deed a day. it also comes with Paper Chain Strips you can cut and put together so that your kids can tear off one strip a day, do the grateful deed, and “watch” the days countdown!
this is talked about on the previous page but to add to that, it is typical for families to have an Advent wreath on display somewhere in the home.
churches often provide daily readings to go along with family Advent wreaths. candles can be lit daily, during a time of prayer or simply as a continual reminder of the coming of Jesus.
in our house, we typically light our wreath candles during dinner and try to add in a Scripture reading after dinner to keep the kids engaged in the true meaning of Christmas (and not just the gifts!!).
many people also start a new devotional for the Advent season (or set aside quiet time to reflect), often choosing something that shines light on the prayerful act of waiting.
each year, our family focuses on gratitude and kindness in our wait. the kids use their Advent Countdown Calendar plus Prepare Him Room, a 4-Week Advent Guided Gratitude Journal for Moms + Families. If you’d like to learn more about these daily devotional resources, you can click HERE.
What is Advent (in summary)
Advent has evolved throughout history to include the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas along with the days in between. Christians and Catholics alike use this time to anticipate the birth and coming of Jesus.
most often, Advent is celebrated by families through the use of an Advent wreath, Advent Calendar, and daily devotions.
i like to think the pressure is off for any of these to be too formal, which is why we like to light our wreath at any time of the day, focus on grateful waiting with our Advent Gratitude Countdown Calendar, and use our Prepare Him Room Guided Gratitude Journals to recenter ourselves for a few minutes each day, alongside the hustle and bustle that comes with the season.
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS:
The Everymom’s Guide to Lent
Free Printable Advent Calendar with Paper Chain Countdown Strips
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