Festival facts: Advent

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By Louise Tellamteacher and freelance writer

Discover the true meaning of Advent and why it is an important part of Christmas


What is Advent?

The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’, which means ‘to arrive’. In the Christian Church, this term refers to the time of year spent in preparation for the ‘coming’ of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Church’s year and this period of expectation starts on the Sunday nearest to 30 November (3 December 2006) and continues until Christmas Eve (24 December 2006). Liturgical and personal rituals guide believers through reflection upon the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, the visitation of angels to Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Joseph, the birth of John the Baptist and the preparations for the birth of Jesus. For Christians this is the essential context for the full celebration of Christmas.

Why is Advent celebrated?

The commercialisation of Christmas for believers and non-believers, and a lack of information, often means that some theological events and ideas that are essential to Advent, and subsequently to Christmas itself, are largely overlooked in this busy season. The stories and prophecies that precede the birth of Jesus are vital to the Christian tradition, although often people are only aware of the birth narratives. Many activities and customs that are part of the Christmas preparations are hollow without some understanding of the underlying Christian beliefs.

Advent became explicitly identified as a church season in the 5th century and began on 11 November, St Martin’s Day. The six weeks prior to Christmas were spent in penitent fasting. During the following century, this period was reduced to four weeks and the emphasis became one of joyful anticipation. Christians were encouraged to reflect upon what they saw as the hope offered through the coming into the world of God’s Son, and to greet this blessing with joy. For some people, who saw the world as dominated by evil, there was a longing for redemption and the second coming of the Messiah.

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