Vocabulary —Advent

Prepare for the coming of Jesus

Advent is the period of 4 Sundays (and 4 weeks) before Christmas. (Or we sometimes define it as lasting from the 1st of December to Christmas Day!) Advent means “Coming” in Latin, therefore, this is the coming of Jesus into the world. In joyful anticipation, Christians spend the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare for and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

Advent Sunday falls anywhere from the 27th of November (which it was in 2016) to the 3rd of December (which it was in 2017). Advent only starts on the 1st of December when Christmas Day is on a Wednesday (as in 2019).

No one is really sure when Christians first celebrated Advent. But we know it dates back to at least the year 567 when monks were ordered to fast during December leading up to Christmas.


Some people fast (don’t eat anything) during advent to help them concentrate on preparing to celebrate Jesus’s coming. In many Orthodox and Eastern Catholics Churches, Advent lasts for 40 days and starts on November 15th and is also called the Nativity Fast.

Orthodox Christians often don’t eat meat and dairy during Advent.  Depending on the day, they also avoid olive oil, wine and fish. You can see what days mean not eating which foods on this calendar from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Early Nativity Scenes

In medieval and pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there was an early form of Nativity scene called ‘advent image’ or a ‘vessel cup’. They were made in a box, often with a glass lid. The lid was covered with a white napkin, that contained two dolls representing Mary and the baby Jesus. They decorated the box with ribbons and flowers (and sometimes apples too). People carried these boxes around from door to door, because it was a way to make money. It was thought to be very unlucky if you haven’t seen a box before Christmas Eve! Finally, people paid the box carriers a halfpenny to see the box.

Advent Carols

There are some Christmas Carols that are really Advent Carols! These include People Look East, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, Lo! He Comes, with Clouds Descending. And we can’t leave out, perhaps the most popular advent song: O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

We count down the days to Advent in several different ways, but the most common is by a calendar or candle(s).

From LCMS:

QUESTION: Why does the church year begin at Advent, what is the history of Advent, and what is the history behind the Advent candles and wreath?

ANSWER: The word “advent” comes from the Latin word for “coming,” and as such, describes the “coming” of our Lord Jesus Christ into the flesh.

Advent begins the church year because the church year begins where Jesus’ earthly life began — in the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation. After Advent comes Christmas, which is about his birth; then Epiphany, about his miracles and ministry; then Lent, about his Calvary-bound mission; then Easter, about his resurrection and the sending of the apostles; and then Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost, with the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The first half of the church year (approximately December through June) highlights the life of Christ. The second half (approximately June through November) highlights the teachings of Christ. The parables and miracles play a big part here. That’s “the church year in a nutshell,” and it should help reveal how Advent fits into “the big picture.”

Advent specifically focuses on Christ’s “coming,” but Christ’s coming manifests itself among us in three ways — past, present, and future.

The readings which highlight Christ’s coming in the past focus on the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation at Bethlehem. The readings, which highlight Christ’s coming in the future, focus on his “second coming” on the Last Day at the end of time. And, finally, the readings that highlight Christ’s coming in the present focus on his ministry among us through Word and Sacrament today.

The traditional use of Advent candles (sometimes held in a wreath) originated in
eastern Germany even prior to the Reformation. As this tradition came down to us by the beginning of this century, it involved three purple candles and one pink candle.

The purple candles matched the purple paraments on the altar (purple for the royalty of the coming King). The pink candle was the third candle to be lit (not the fourth) on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” in Latin, which is taken from Phil. 4:4.

(“Rejoice! … the Lord is near”). Hence a “pink” candle was used to signify “rejoicing.” Some also included a white “Christ candle” in the middle to be lit during the 12 days of
Christmas (Dec. 25 to Jan. 5).

The concept of giving each candle a name, i.e., Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherd and Angel, (as is our custom her at Mt. Olive), is a relatively novel phenomenon and probably originates with certain entrepreneurial publishers seeking to sell Advent candles and devotional booklets.

There are many beautiful customs and traditions surrounding Advent as well as a load of history concerning its development. Books would probably be the best source for these matters.

For that reason, here are a few books: