The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘Adventus,’ meaning ‘coming.’
Advent is intended to be observed as a season of preparation, a season of looking forward to something greater; both for the celebration of the event of Christ’s birth, and for the time when Christ will come again.
Like so many of the traditional festival dates, the exact time when the season of Advent came to be celebrated is not known, though from what I read, there are several theories on the matter.
It stands to reason that it was not in practice before the celebration of the Nativity and Christmastide began. Evidence seems to show that the feast of the Nativity was established within the later part of the 4th century, though there is some hint that it may have been celebrated on the 25th of December as early as the middle of the second century.
Though there are sermons dating as far back as the 5th century which discuss preparing for the Nativity in a general sense, it wasn’t until about 590 that there is any written record (sermons written by Pope St. Gregory the Great, which give reference to the second Sunday of Advent) mentioning the celebration of advent in any liturgical sense, and even then it was referred to as a season of fasting.
By the year 650 Spain was celebrating the Sundays (five at the time) of Advent. For the next couple of centuries, Advent was celebrated for five Sundays; Pope Gregory VII reduced the number to four Sundays.
Through the centuries, the themes or focus of the Advent season has evolved a bit. The early Advent season was penitential, and focused on repentance for sins, prayer, hymns, reading of the scriptures, etc.
Today many who celebrate this season, combine the more reflective spirit of the Advent with the joy of anticipation and preparation, as they prepare to remember Christ’s birth, and ready their hearts for His return.
Advent Wreath, which contains four (or five) candles. The first, second and fourth candles are traditionally purple to represent penitence and fasting, as well as the royalty of the coming King. The third candle is rose-colored, meant to lessen the emphasis on penitence, and turn more to joyful celebration of the season. A fifth, white candle in the center of the wreath is to represent the pure Light that is Christ.
TheAdvent Calendar is one way which many people choose to mark the days of advent, particularly among children. These calendars sometimes carry short devotional messages, or small chocolate shapes.
Nativity Scenes are very popular additions to any household in the advent season. They offer a visual aid to children, helping to focus on the reason for the Advent Season.