ADVENT begins December 2, 2012

Advent, anglicized from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming”, is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi. The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1.

The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday from November 27 to December 3 inclusive.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ.

For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. 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.

The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.

The usual liturgical color in Western Christianity for Advent is either purple or blue. The purple color is often used for hangings around the church, on the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle.

On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent.

In some Christian denominations, blue, a color representing hopefulness, is an alternative liturgical color for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. In addition, the color blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates to the eighth century. This color is often referred to as “Sarum blue”. The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred color for Advent while the Methodist Book of Worship identifies purple or blue as being appropriate for Advent. There has been an increasing trend 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.

During the Nativity Fast, red is used among the denominations of Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative color.

In Advent, the Advent Prose, an antiphonal plainsong, may be sung. The “Late Advent Weekdays”, December 17–24, 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”.

From the 4th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent (commencing in some localities on 11 November; this being the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the fast became known as “St. Martin’s Lent”, “St. Martin’s Fast” or the “forty days of St. Martin”). The feast day was in many countries a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed, with the Roman Catholic Church doing likewise later, but still keeping Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. The third Sunday in Advent was a Rose Sunday, when the color of the vestments was changed and a relaxation of the fast was permitted. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before the Nativity Feast.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [Ed. F.L.Cross, 2nd ed., O.U.P., 1974] states regarding Advent: “The first clear references to the season in the Western Church come from the latter half of the 6th century. In the Gelasian Sacramentary Advent Collects, Epistles, and Gospels are provided for the five Sundays preceding Christmas and for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays.” (p. 19).

Advent Lanterns

In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. 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 is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops.[8] 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, the Italian tradition being that 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. The keeping of an advent wreath is also a common practice, with four or five candles extending from the wreath. The colours associated with the candles are variously interpreted.

Advent Dates for 2012
• December 2 – First Sunday of Advent
• December 9 – Second Sunday of Advent
• December 16 – Third Sunday of Advent
• December 23 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent.

In Eastern Orthodox churches which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days, rather than 4 weeks.

Information thanks to Wikipedia

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