The Meaning of Advent, Its Symbols, and Celebrations

Advent is one of the seasons in the liturgical year. It's a Christian holiday celebrated all over the world by most Christians and numerous non-Christians as well.

Advent time is a time of anticipation of Jesus Christ's (re-)birth which falls on the night of the 24th of December and 25th of December. The season of Advent officially starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This means it can fall anywhere between 27th of November and 3rd of December, so Advent time can last from 21 to 27 days, but for practical reasons majority of people celebrate it from 1st of December to 24th of December ending it with Christmas as the major holiday.

What is the Meaning of Advent?

The word advent comes from the Latin adventus (arrival or coming), meaning we anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ, or if we dig a bit deeper into the pagan origins, the birth of the Sun. As we know the Sun in the Western hemisphere is the weakest at the end of December (namely the 21st of December) when the days are shortest.

shooting star

Short days mean low light and heat which causes cold and dark times which were very scary for people, and directly dependent on natural cycles. Such times were calling for some optimism, hope for the return of the Sun, the return of light, warmth, new life on Earth, and expectations of better times.

Such feelings are still present in the Christian religion where candles symbolize all that by their colors and light. Traditional Christmas wreath is another symbol of natural cycles, with a round shape and made of evergreen plants suggesting the eternal life cycle. The same is true for the Jesse tree, named after Jesse, King David's father, a direct descendant of Adam and Abraham, who is also the earthly father of Jesus.

In more generic cases the word advent can be used as the beginning of an event, somebody's arrival, or the invention of something important.

shephards see sign richard andre

Let's not forget another Christian belief - one day Christ will return to Earth, which means in Advent time we are also anticipating and preparing for his second coming.

The Symbolism of Advent Colors

Each Advent Sunday is marked by a color with its own symbolism which can vary a bit. In some cases three purple and one pink candle are used, in others, a white candle is used as well.

The first purple candle is called the Prophet's Candle and represents hope, the second is the Bethlehem Candle symbolizing love or faith, and the third is the Shephards' Candle. It means joy, and the last is the Angel's Candle for peace. We often say Christmas time is the time of peace.

In other variations, the candles represent related feelings. The first is for expectation, the second for hope, the third for joy, and the fourth for purity. We often say about children, especially newborns, that they are pure, without sin, just like every new life is pure.

advent candles

Similarly, all Advent Sundays are themed, which expands through the whole week up to the next Sunday. Let's see how Methodist Church explains it:

  • The first theme is sometimes called God's people and it starts with the ignition of The Candle of Hope. In a dark place, a shining light brings hope.
  • The second theme is Love, it starts with The Candle of Love and represents John the Baptist. As the first one, this candle is also violet.
  • The third candle is pink and is called The Candle of Joy. It represents the mother of Jesus - Mary. The theme of this week is called Mary the Mother of Jesus.
  • The fourth candle is in this case also violet. It represents the Prophets of the Old Testament. It's The Candle of Piece.
  • There is also a fifth candle, placed in the center of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve. It's white and is called The Christ Candle. Some Christians use five candles, but most use only the first four.
  • As we can see, there is no unified symbolism, which reflects differences between individual parts of the Christian Church.

How We Celebrate Advent?

Traditional celebrating of Advent consists of fasting (for some all days in December till Christmas), praying, and repentance. This should be time for spirituality, meditation, thankfulness, and prayer.

Advent is also a time for different memorials and feasts, often intertwined with different holy days.

A more intimate tradition is the decoration of the Christmas tree. Some put it and decorate it on the first day of Advent, some do it only on Christmas Eve, yet most choose to decorate a tree about a week or two before Christmas and typically remove it a week after the New Year (when Epiphany is celebrated).

advent traditions

No matter how anybody decides to celebrate this holiday, Christmas is widely recognized as a family holiday when family members are gathered together even if they live in different parts of town, state, or the world. It's also time to meet old friends and make good deeds.

Especially among children advent calendars are very popular. Each day of advent can be marked as a chance for an activity, a charitable event, or an attempt to spread goodwill around. Advent calendars come in countless variations, sometimes as coloring sheets, boxes of candies, or collections of plastic toys.

If you want to present your loved ones with a gift of anticipation, we prepared numerous printable Advent Calendars with different themes, for more active or more passive kids.

While older ones can also enjoy these printable calendars, the market offers many more variations: from beer or whiskey lovers to music or yoga fans, from tea drinkers or makeup users to Sesame Street nostalgics or cheese foodies.

Hey, there are also Advent calendars designed as garlands with 24 sacks, made of burlap, where you can put a joke, a quote, or a small gift of your choice into each one of them.

advent calendar eco friendly

And there are, of course, nativity scenes, depictiong the birth of Jesus, sometimes with real actors, but mostly static ones, with figures representing the major characters and symbols connected with arrival of Jesus among shephards and sheeps.

Advent Celebrations Around the World

In Europe wreaths and candles are an obvious choice, but the number of candles and their color may vary. Even the time of Advent can vary because due to different calendar the Orthodox Church celebrate Christmas only on the 7th of January, but some start the Advent season on the 15th of November, which means the Advent time, in this case, lasts the whole 40 days! Gathering near Churches and singing Christmas carols is part of the tradition in numerous parts of Europe as well.

advent wreath

An interesting celebration of Advent in England is Christingles. The word can be used for an item (an orange decorated with red tape, a candle, and sweets) or the service which typically includes readings, singing, and prayers.

In Australia Advent is specific due to summer time in the Southern hemisphere. Children have their summer holidays during December and many native plants are used as decoration, typically outdoors, often with lovely blooms and, with some luck, visited by colorful birds. Of course, reindeer are not Australian first choice - they of course prefer kangaroos!

Let's not forget millions of Christians in Asia, where Advent is typically celebrated by decorating homes with red paper lanterns and giving apples, often wrapped in colored paper.

Mexico, on the other hand, celebrates only nine days before Christmas (from 16th of December to 24th of December). This time is called Las Posadas (The Inns) and is dedicated to the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. An important part of the celebration which is also popular in some southern parts of the USA is the precessions of children, led by a child dressed as an angel. A procession stops at some homes, where they got refreshments and small gifts.

mary jesus and angels arthur rackham

Christians in Africa spend good parts of the Advent season in their churches, often including singing, dancing, and enjoying good meals. While you can find Santa in Ethiopia using a camel instead of a sleigh, Liberia doesn't recognize Santa Claus at all. Instead, there is a devilish character called Old Man Bayka, who is wandering around the streets begging for gifts.

We hope you enjoyed and got at least one good idea from our article about Advent, its meaning, symbolism, and celebrations.

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