Is Advent the ‘new year’?
The Church’s feasts and celebrations run on a yearlong 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.
Advent wreaths: Where do they come from?
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 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?
There are four candles on the Advent wreath. Three are purple and 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.”
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 day on which Christmas carolers may 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.
Is it wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent?
No, but there are a lot of great Advent hymns and songs, such as “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “O Come Divine Messiah,” “Come Thou Fount,” “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
When should the tree go up?
When to put up the tree is a decision that families decide on their own. Some people put up their tree and decorate it on the first Sunday of Advent to make a big transformation in their home and get them into “preparing for Christmas” mode.
Some put up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent, put on lights the next Sunday, ornaments the next, and decorate it more and more as they get closer to Christmas.
Some put up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, as a kind of rejoicing, and decorate it in the weeks between Gaudate and Christmas.
When the tree goes up and gets decorated is up to the individual and family, but having a Christmas tree is a big part of many people’s Advent tradition.
This explainer was initially published in November 2019 and has been updated.