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Advent is a season observed in many Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning "coming". The term "Advent" is also used in Eastern Orthodoxy for the 40-day Nativity Fast, which has practices different from those in the west.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives. "Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time." The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.
Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (sometimes known as Advent Sunday), the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew's Day (30 November), in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church, and in the Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars. In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin's Day (11 November).
Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, lighting a Christingle, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically, through a hanging of the greens ceremony.
The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West. The Eastern Nativity Fast does not use the equivalent parousia in its preparatory services.
It is unknown when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 – and the novelty introduced by the Council of Tours of 567 was to order monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas; Some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles or that it was founded by Saint Peter himself. This has led to the conclusion that it is "impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent".
Associated with Advent was a period of fasting, known also as the Nativity Fast or the Fast of December.
According to some sources, the celebration of Advent begins in the fifth century, when the Bishop Perpetuus, in an order, decided that starting with the feast of St. Martin, 11 November, until Christmas, one fasts three times per week: this is why Advent is also named Lent of St. Martin. According to historians, this institution does not exceed the limits of the diocese of Tours until the sixth century.
But the Macon council held in 581 adopted the use devoted to Tours, and soon all France observed three days of fasting a week for the Saint Martin until Christmas. It is also decreed that the offices would be during Advent in the same rite during Lent. The most devout worshipers exceed, in some countries, the requirements adopted by the Council of Macon, and fasted every day of Advent. Although the homilies of Gregory the Great in the late sixth century showed four weeks to the liturgical season of Advent, but without the observance of a fast. However, under Charlemagne in the ninth century, writings claim that the quarantine was still widely observed.
In the thirteenth century, the fast of Advent was not commonly practised; although, according to Durand of Mende, fasting was still generally observed. Just as quoted in the bull of canonisation of St. Louis, the zeal with which he observed this fast, it was no longer a custom observed by Christians of great piety. Then it was limited the period from Saint Andrew until Christmas Day; the solemnity of this apostle being more universal in fact than of St. Martin. When Pope Urban V ascended the papal seat in 1362, he simply forced people in his court to abstinence but there was no question of fasting. It was then customary in Rome to observe five weeks of Advent that preceded Christmas. This is particularly discussed in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory. Ambrosiana or Milan Liturgies have six. The Greeks have also no more real consistency; Advent was an optional fasting that some begin on 15 November, while others begin 6 December or only a few days before Christmas.
The Catholic Church, for centuries, begin the season of Advent on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and neither a fast nor extraordinary abstinence are observed. No canonical penalty was ever attached to the offence practices of Advent. Weddings were prohibited until Epiphany; this is explained by the fact that originally Jesus' birth feast was celebrated on 6 January, as the Theophany.
The liturgy of Advent remained unchanged until the Second Vatican Council, in 1963, introduce minor changes to clearly define and differentiate the spirit of periods of Lent and Advent. Finally, Advent has become a waiting period and hope before the advent of Christ.
The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often the preparation for the Second Coming, while also commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. The first clear references in the Western Church to Advent occur in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which provides Advent Collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the five Sundays preceding Christmas and for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays. While the Sunday readings relate to the first coming of Jesus Christ as saviour as well as to his second coming as judge, traditions vary in the relative importance of penitence and expectation during the weeks in Advent.
Liturgical coloursto be the proper colour for Advent, though Durandus of Saint-Pourçain claims violet has preference over black. The violet or purple colour is often used for hangings around the church, the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. In some Christian denominations, blue, a colour representing hope, is an alternative liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. In addition, the colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates from the 8th century. This colour is often referred to as "Sarum blue".
The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent while the Methodist Book of Worship and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship identify purple or blue as appropriate for Advent. There has been an increasing trend in Protestant churches to supplant purple with blue during Advent as it is a hopeful season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Proponents of this new liturgical trend argue that purple is traditionally associated with solemnity and somberness, which is fitting to the repentant character of Lent. The Roman Catholic Church retains the traditional violet. Blue is not generally used in Latin Catholicism, and where it does regionally, it has nothing to do with Advent specifically, but with veneration of the Blessed Virgin. However, on some occasions that are heavily associated with Advent, such as the Rorate Mass (but not on Sundays), white is used.
On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. Rose colour candle in the Western Christianity is referenced as a sign of Joy (Gaudete) lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent.
During the Nativity Fast, red is used by Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative colour.
Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel's Messiah oratorio. Also, the Advent Prose, an antiphonal plainsong, may be sung. The "Late Advent Weekdays", 17–24 December, mark the singing of the Great Advent 'O antiphons'. These are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) and Evensong in Anglican churches each day and mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel". German songs for Advent include "Es kommt ein Schiff, geladen" from the 15th century and "O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf", published in 1622. Johann Sebastian Bach composed several cantatas for Advent in Weimar, from Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, to Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147a, but only one more in Leipzig where he worked for the longest time, because there Advent was a silent time which allowed a cantata music only on the first of the four Sundays.
During Advent, the Gloria of the Mass is omitted, so that the return of the angels' song at Christmas has an effect of novelty. Since mass compositions written especially for Lent, such as Michael Haydn's Missa tempore Quadragesimae, without Gloria, in D minor, and for modest forces, only choir and organ, may for that reason be chosen for use in Advent.
Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, who died in 490, ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin's Day (11 November). In the 6th century, local councils enjoined fasting on all days except Saturdays and Sundays from Saint Martin's Day to Epiphany (the feast of baptism), a period of 56 days, but of 40 days fasting, like the fast of Lent. It was therefore called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin's Lent). This period of fasting was later shortened and called "Advent" by the Church.
In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed. The Roman Catholic Church later abolished the precept of fasting (at an unknown date at the latest in 1917), later, but kept Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. On Rose Sunday, relaxation of the fast was permitted. Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before Christmas.
In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.
In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it was believed driving out such vermin as were likely to damage the crops.
In Italy, among other Advent celebrations is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus: in Italian tradition, the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.
In recent times the most common observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. In many countries, the first day of Advent often heralds the start of the Christmas season, with many people opting to erect their Christmas trees and Christmas decorations on or immediately before Advent Sunday.
Since 2011, an Advent labyrinth consisting of 2500 tealights has been formed for the third Saturday of Advent in Frankfurt-Bornheim.
Inspired by a sixteenth-century German tradition, the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern due to the impatience of the children he taught; He then made a crown of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle. Custom has retained only the large candles.
The crown is traditionally made of fir tree branches knotted with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel and sometimes mistletoe. It is also an ancient symbol signifying several things; first of all, the crown symbolises victory, in addition to its round form evoking the sun and its return each year, the number of four represents, in addition to the four weeks of Advent, the four seasons and the four cardinal points, and the green colour is a sign of life and hope. The fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel, a symbol of victory over sin and suffering. The latter two, with the holly, do not lose their leaves, and thus represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace, as well as the symbol of the struggle against darkness. For Christians, this crown is also the symbol of Christ the King, the holly recalling the thorns of the Holy Crown resting on the head of Christ. The Advent wreath is traditionally placed on a table with four candles or on the front door of the house as a welcome sign.
The candles also symbolise the great stages of salvation before the coming of the Messiah; the first is the symbol of the forgiveness granted to Adam and Eve, the second is the symbol of the faith of Abraham and of the patriarchs who believe in the gift of the Promised Land, the third is the symbol of the joy of David whose lineage does not not stop and also testify of his covenant with God, and the fourth and last candle is the symbol of the teaching of the prophets who announce a reign of justice and peace. Or they symbolise the four stages of human history; the Creation, the Incarnation, the redemption of sins and the Last Judgment. Currently at the Mass of the Catholic Church, the four candles are gradually lit, but the symbolism of these stages is rarely expressed. In the Orthodox churches there are sometimes crowns with six candles, because of the longer duration of Advent.
In Sweden, the candles are white, symbol of festivity and purity, and the crown is reserved for the feast of Saint Lucia on 13 December. In Canada, the Advent wreath is adorned with three violet candles and a pink candle; The pink candle being lit on the 3rd Sunday, it evokes the joy of the completion of waiting. In Austria, candles are purple, a sign of penance.
The keeping of an advent wreath is also a common practice in homes or churches. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ's ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ's birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-coloured vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds. In the Episcopal Church USA, the collect stir up may be read during this week, although before the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer it was sometimes read in the first Sunday of Advent. Even earlier, 'Stir-up Sunday' was once jocularly associated with the stirring of the Christmas mincement, begun before Advent. The phrase 'Stir up' occurs at the start of the collect for the last Sunday before Advent in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ's birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel's candle. The Magnificat or Song of Mary may be featured. Where an advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and lit during the Christmas Eve service.