All about Advent: its history and meaning

All about Advent: its history and meaning - an infographic about the meaning of the advent candles

Advent, the period of preparation for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, begins on the Sunday nearest to 30th November.

We know that the Advent period focuses on expectation and imagine it to serve as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the period running up to Christmas. And indeed this is so – but there’s more to it than that. Isn’t there always? As this article about Advent on explains:

The History of Advent

The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming. This is turn is a translation of the Greek word ‘parousia’. Scholars believe that, during the 4th and 5th centuries, in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation. Preparations for the baptism of new Christians during the January feast of Epiphany – ‘the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and his first miracle at Cana.

During this time Christians experienced a penitential season similar to Lent in order to prepare for this celebration. There wasn’t originally any connection between Advent and Christmas. his had changed by the 6th century when Roman Christians associated Advent with the coming of Christ – but not his first ‘coming’ in the manger in Bethlehem but his second coming as the judge of the world. It took until the Middle Ages for the Advent season to form an explicit link to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

And today

Advent as we know it now comprises the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. That’s when the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day Christmas celebration that runs from Christmas Eve to Epiphany on January 6th.

Nor it does it include any requirement to fast. It’s more a case of the opposite really – what with office parties and Christmas lunches and general over-indulgence.


The typical colours of Christmas are red, green, white, silver and gold. Yet it might surprise you to know that Advent features purple or dark blue and pink as well as a white central candle.

This website: explains more detail about the traditional symbolism of each candle.

The first Sunday of the season sees the lighting of the first purple candle. In remembrance of the prophets who foretold the birth of Christ, this candle often is called the Prophecy Candle. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah. Then each subsequent Sunday, sees an additional candle lit.

The second Advent Sunday is the day for lighting the second purple candle – typically representing love. Some traditions call this the ‘Bethlehem Candle,’ symbolizing Christ’s manger.

On the third Sunday the pink candle, often referred to as the Sheperd’s Candle, is lit. The fourth and last purple candle, often called the ‘Angel’s Candle represents peace and that’s lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

Christams Eve or Christmas Day is the time for lighting the white centre candle. Called the Christ Candle this one represents the life of Christ coming into the world.

And here’s one we made earlier

Those of us of a certain age here in the UK will have fond memories of the annual Advent crown they made on Blue Peter out of wire coat hangers covered in tinsel. I suspect the health and safety brigade long ago put a stop to that activity.

Wishing peace to all in this Advent season – whatever your beliefs.

See also:

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