Advent is the time in which we prepare for Christmas, the memorial of Jesus Christ being born into the world. Preparations are practical, like decorating a tree or stringing lights, but they’re also intended to be spiritual.
During Advent, we’re invited to enter more frequently into silence, into prayer and reflection, into Scripture, and into the sacramental life of the Church, all to prepare for celebrating Christmas.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the goal of Advent is to make present for ourselves and our families the “ancient expectancy of the Messiah...by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming.”
Cool. So, it’s like four weeks long?
Advent is a slightly different length each year. It starts four Sundays before Christmas. But because Christmas is on a fixed date, and could fall on different days of the week, Advent can be as short as three weeks and a day, or as long as four weeks. Christmas is on a Friday in 2020, so Advent will be three weeks and four days long.
Ok, my priest keeps talking about Advent being the “new year.” But Advent is before Christmas. What’s the deal?
The Church’s feasts and celebrations run on a year-long cycle, which we call the “liturgical year.” The “liturgical year” starts on the first Sunday of Advent. So it’s a new liturgical year when Advent starts. But the Church also uses the ordinary calendar, so it would probably be a bit weird to have a “New Year’s Eve” party the night before Advent starts.
Still, if 2020 has been a hard year for you, and I bet it has, you can take some consolation in knowing that, for the Church, we're already in a new year. Good riddance, 2020!
And, Advent wreaths. Where do they come from? Is it true that they’re just pagan wreaths borrowed by the Church?
The Catholic Church has been using advent wreaths since the Middle Ages. Lighting candles as we prepare for Christmas reminds us that Christ is the light of the world. And the evergreen boughs remind us of new and eternal life in Christ, the eternal son of the Father.
It is definitely true that Germanic people were lighting up candle wreaths in wintertime long before the Gospel arrived in their homeland. They did so because, well, candle wreaths in winter are beautiful and warm. That a Christian symbol emerged from that tradition is an indication that the Gospel can be expressed through the language, customs, and symbols of cultures that come to believe that Christ Jesus is Lord.
One candle is pink. Why?
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There are four candles on the Advent wreath. Three are purple, and they are first lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, which we call Gaudete Sunday. On that Sunday, in addition to the pink candle, the priest wears a pink vestment, which he might refer to as rose. But rose, from this writer's perspective, is a shade of pink.
Gaudete is a word that means “Rejoice!” and we rejoice on Gaudete Sunday, because we are halfway through Advent. Some people have the custom of throwing “Gaudete” parties, and this is also a traditional day on which Christmas carolers begin caroling door-to-door.
The three purple candles are sometimes said to represent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the three spiritual disciplines that are key to a fruitful Advent.
I like the Advent calendars that have chocolate in them. Do you know where they come from?
No. But I like them too. The chocolate is usually pretty waxy, but still. I think the idea is to build up anticipation by having only one little treat each day. But sometimes I eat them all in the first week. Oops.
Is it wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent?