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Is there more to Advent than calendars with daily gifts?

We’re all familiar with Advent Calendars, and that Advent happens in the run-up to Christmas, but what actually is it?

Advent is a Christian season that leads to Christmas. It always includes the 4 Sundays immediately before Christmas. The first of those Sundays starts the season, and is called Advent Sunday. This can fall on any date between 27 November and 3 December.

The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. By the 6th century, Advent had been tied to the coming of Christ – but the “coming” the Roman Christians had in mind was his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that Advent was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming in the manger at Bethlehem. Together, this gives Advent dual themes of remembrance and anticipation.

Christians often light a candle on an Advent Wreath on each Sunday, both at home and at church. These first appeared in Germany in 1839. They’re created using evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death. The circle is a reminder of God’s unending love. Four candles, often red or purple are nestled in the greenery. One candle is lit each Sunday in Advent. The 4 candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Others add that they symbolise God’s people, the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary the mother of Jesus. A large white candle is often placed in the middle to be lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Advent Calendars are daily countdown calendars. The first ones appears in the late nineteenth century. It developed from the tradition that some Christians had of keeping a track of the days by making chalk marks on their door, which were rubbed off one by one as Christmas got closer. The first printed Advent Calendar was produced in 1908.

They used to start on Advent Sunday but this meant that the number of doors/windows changed each year. Gradually, manufacturers made all Advent Calendars start on 1st December, so that they could be used any year and less stock is wasted. As Advent Sunday 2019 falls on 1 December, there are the correct number of doors and windows this year. The original idea was to tell the story leading up to and including Christmas, bit by bit each day. The addition of chocolates is thought to have started in the 1950s. Nowadays, many Advent Calendars have nothing to do with the faith story of Christmas, and are simply countdown calendars with an amazing variety of daily gifts.

Mary Vickers
author
Mary Vickers moved to North East Lincolnshire in 2010, from the Wiltshire/Hampshire border, to become Urban and Industrial Chaplain NELincs. Made redundant in 2017, she's maintained many of her connections within the business, faith, and other local communities. She's also decided to stay here rather than return to either the south or her husband's native Yorkshire, so that she can continue to enjoy and help promote the positives of NELincs.