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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14


What is Advent?

Alpha and Omega

Advent is one the most important events in the Christian religion. It is an occasion that many non-Christians have heard of, especially around the Christmas holiday, even if they don't know about its religious significance. Some people may have even used an "advent calendar" (right) without understanding its underlying meaning.

The English word "advent" - which may or may not have a religious meaning; it depends on context - is defined as, "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." In Christianity, the season of "Advent" marks the beginning of the church year.

The Christian world doesn't observe Advent in the same way. Variations in observances of Advent are found in different branches of the faith. In the Western churches, for instance, Advent encompasses four consecutive Sundays, beginning with the Sunday nearest to November 30 and ending on Christmas Eve. However, in Eastern Orthodox churches, Advent is longer, usually beginning on November 15.

History of Advent

Historically, Advent is a period of fasting, repentance, and preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ second coming and the Day of Judgment. It is unknown exactly when Christians began to observe Advent.

In the 5th century, the Bishop of Tours instituted a fast beginning on November 11, and the acts of the Council of Tours in 567 mention an Advent season. In 581, a synod in Gaul declared that from November 11 to Christmas, the mass shall be performed using the Lenten rite on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week.


Advent Practices

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More recently, Advent has become an anticipation of the historical coming of Christ at Christmas, also called "the incarnation." Christianity has traditionally taught that God the Father sent Jesus to the world by means of the virgin Mary.

Observing Advent can vary due to denominational distinctives or cultural traditions. Fasting is generally no longer observed, except in some Eastern churches. The royal colors of blue and purple are incorporated into most Advent services.

The most popular non-religious observance of Advent is the Advent Calendar, usually made of several layers of cardboard or paper. Children open a new "door" each day of Advent to reveal a small toy or chocolate treat.

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  1. "Advent."  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2003.  Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 
  2. Bowker, John, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions.
  3. Mershman, Frances, "Advent." Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. 1907.
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