What is Advent and why is it important?

November 27, 2023

Advent always starts four Sundays before Christmas. This year, in 2023, Advent starts on Sunday 3 December and ends on Sunday 24 December. It’s an important part of the year for Christians but is not always clearly understood by the general public. What is the Advent celebration all about, and what kind of messages can be derived by those who are not necessarily religious?

The word “Advent” derives from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” In this case, it refers to the coming birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ during the second coming. It begins on the Sunday that is closest to St Andrew’s Day, this year 3 December.

In the Catholic Church, the Advent season reminds us about the importance of Christ in our lives, prepares us to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas, and refers to his second coming at a future time. Catholics consider all three comings when they celebrate Advent. Traditionally, Catholics will focus more on prayer and an element of fasting through the period. Priests will wear purple vestments during this time, and it is traditional to have an Advent wreath as well.

The four candles

The Advent wreath consists of four candles, which are arranged in a circular pattern, surrounded by evergreen branches. Each candle corresponds to the four respective Sundays through Advent. Three of the candles will be purple or blue in colour, and the other one will be pink. The blue and purple candles represent penitence, while the pink candle refers to the third Sunday of Advent, which is known as Gaudete Sunday. This is meant to encourage participants to continue praying as Advent is soon to reach its conclusion.

Advent – week by week

Each week during Advent has a specific meaning and relevance.

  • In the first week, Catholics will light the first candle. This signifies hope as it is commonly known as the “Prophet’s candle” and signals that Jesus is coming.
  • On the second Sunday, a candle is lit to celebrate faith. This is based on the everlasting love of God, and it is also commonly referred to as the “Bethlehem” candle. This reminds everyone that Mary and Joseph undertook the journey to Bethlehem.
  • On the third Sunday of Advent, it is traditional to celebrate Joy with the “Shepherds” candle. This third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and a literal translation here is to “rejoice.” It is a Sunday to remember Mary as the mother of Jesus.
  • On the fourth Sunday, the candle symbolises peace and is known as the “Angels” candle. The simple message here from the angels is “peace on earth and goodwill towards men.”

What if you’re not religious?

Even though Advent has a special meaning in the Catholic Church, it can be celebrated by everyone regardless of your religious beliefs. After all, this time of year can be particularly busy – the Advent celebration may help you to slow down and take a moment to ponder what is important in life. During difficult times it can be easy to lose sight of the more important things. Why not use Advent to have everyone in the family remember to slow down, be more grateful and think of others?

Fun ways to celebrate Advent

To help you, think about keeping an Advent calendar. This is a fun way to count down the days until Christmas, and you can put it in a prominent place so that everyone can engage. You may choose to light your own Advent wreath, complete with the four candles. As you do so, you should focus on the individual meanings, and, of course, you do not have to be devoutly religious to understand the importance of hope, faith, joy and peace.

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