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What Is Advent? A Brief History of Advent and 15 Ways to Celebrate this Advent/Christmas Season

Updated on December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving has passed, Black Friday deals have been purchased, and the post turkey/shopping nap has been enjoyed. What's next? You may want to shout CHRISTMAS! But for liturgical Christians, the answer is Advent!

Advent is a Latin term meaning "coming" and is the name of the important season of preparation for Christmas. As you prepare for Christmas, here is some history about the Advent season and ideas to make Advent a blessed season as you and your family prepare to welcome the Savior into your home.

What IS Advent?

Advent is a liturgical season in the Western Churches, including the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian Churches, among others.  The season begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, either the last Sunday in November or the first Sunday in December depending on the day of the week of Christmas that year.

Traditionally a penitential period of fasting and supplication like Lent, leading up to Easter, today's Advent takes on a feeling more of joy as Christians focus on the season's "themes" of waiting and preparation.  For liturgical Christians, Advent is not simply about waiting for Christmas presents but also about preparing their homes and hearts for the arrival of Christ.

Advent Traditions

Many traditions exist within the Church, to celebrate the season of Advent, and to help us prepare for Christmas.

Colors -- The traditional liturgical color for Advent is purple, except on the third Sunday of Advent when the color is rose. Purple symbolizes the royalty and sovereignty of Christ, as well as penitence. In modern times some churches have used deep blue, this is meant to symbolize the night sky.  The third Sunday's pink is a mix of Advent purple and Christmas white.

Advent Calendars -- Begun by German Lutherans in the early to mid 19th century, a physical method of counting down the 24 days from December 1st until Christmas day. Common Advent calendars involve a religious image on cardstock, and small doors which are opened on each day of Advent, commonly revealing a quote or piece of Scripture.  Other Advent calendars include chocolates, or small gifts behind the doors.

Advent Wreaths -- A circular wreath commonly decorated in evergreens, with four candles - three purple and one pink.  The circle is a common symbol for continuity or eternity, and the evergreens are similarly "ever" lasting, like God's love.  The first week one candle is lit, with an additional candle lit each week of Advent.  As more candles are lit, the light accumulates and strenghtens in preparation for the birth of Christ, the Light of the world.

Ideas for Celebrating Advent in Your Home:

Have a good idea about Advent, but need ideas about how to mark the season? Looking to add new traditions to your family's Advent celebrations? Find a list here of 15 ways to make the season joyful and meaningful:

1.) Prayer - Many parishes have Advent prayer books available for Church-goers, taking time to pray daily as a family will help prepare your heart for Christmas. Seasonal prayers are also found by googling "Advent prayers" or "Advent devotions." A great source is

2.) Advent wreath - Advent wreaths are a great way to mark the season in your home, and can be lit at dinner time or for prayers.

3.) New Year's Party - The first Sunday in Advent, is also the first Sunday of the Liturgical Year. Say Happy Birthday to the Church!

4.) Christmas Play - It seems fairly impossible that there is not some Church, School, or other local place putting on a Christmas play in your area sometime in December. Look for a Franciscan Greccio play for a bit of a twist involving St. Francis, and live animals!

5.) Celebrate the feasts of St. Nicholas (December 6th), St. Lucia (December 13), and Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12).

6.) Recite the Antiphons beginning December 17th.

7.) Begin decorating your house for Christmas.

8.) Make special Advent projects with your children to teach them about this important Church season, and help them prepare for the holiday. Lot's of great ideas can be found at (Including the one below!)

9.) Manger - Set up a manger scene in your house. Read the story of St. Francis and the Creche, to learn more about how manger scenes became popular.

10.) Empty Manger and "Good deed" hay - Instead of having Jesus in your manger before Christmas, begin with an empty manger, awaiting His arrival on Christmas Day. Throughout the Advent season, encourage children to perform good deeds or make sacrifices as a birthday gift for Jesus. These gifts are symbolized with a piece of hay, placed in the manger to make Jesus' bed "comfortable" in time for Christmas!

11.) Volunteer in your community, or participate in a special gift-giving drive such as Toys for Tots or Operation Christmas Child.

12.) Read the Biblical Christmas story.

13.) Put up a Jesse Tree, and/or read the associated Scripture verses which were fulfilled by Christ's coming. Go to for more information.

14.) Spend special time together as a family.

15.) Follow the daily Liturgical Readings for the Advent season. Available at Better yet, attend daily Mass!


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    • profile image

      Spera Rose, Ocds 3 years ago

      Yes and great reminder that Jesus was an embryo, Thank You and Blessed Christmas!

    • profile image

      ElleBee 3 years ago

      tillstonian - I am glad to hear of someone else doing the empty manger! And yes it sounds like it worked out well w/ 4 kids.

      purl3agony - I think you could have a lot of fun making your own wreaths! my grandparents' church used to do an advent wreath party, and I know we used plain foam bases and then attached fresh greens. this might be an easy way to start w/ making a wreath.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 years ago from USA

      My friends and family were talking about making our own advent wreaths for our homes. Thanks for the description of the symbolism and history of this beautiful tradition. Voted up, interesting, and useful!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      What a refreshing hub in this time of hiding your head if you're a Christian. You've written it well and included many good, spiritual ideas to prepare for Christmas. We do the empty manger and my family always loved the advent wreath and the ritual of the candle lighting. We started the first week with the youngest child lighting the candle and ended with the oldest (fortunately I had four kids).

      I hope you enjoy this season with all its blessings.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

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      Tina Truelove 5 years ago

      Such a sweet tradition!

    • profile image

      ElleBee 5 years ago

      Thanks Tina! Yes, I know people who have used the "empty manger" in their homes and it works well for children since they're great with visuals. My grandma has several manger scenes and they all stay empty until Christmas Eve, then the little kids put all the Jesus' in their mangers before dinner.

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      Tina Truelove 5 years ago

      Great ideas for a meaningful Christmas. I love the empty manger idea as children wait on the arrival of Baby Jesus. I think that activity would help children focus more on the real meaning of Christmas, Christ's birth, and less on the commercial parts. Thanks for the great hub! Voted up and shared!

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      ElleBee 5 years ago

      Thanks kashmir - I'm glad you enjoyed the ideas. I think putting little Advent traditions into your home is a great way to focus on Advent first then Christmas, and help preserve the "meaning of the Season"

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great explanation of what Advent is and it's traditions. All great ideas on how to celebrate Advent in the home. Well done !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !