Advent Season History and Traditions

As we near the close of the year 2022, we can’t help but remind ourselves of the start of a Christian seasonal period that has many symbolic meanings for those who share genuine faith in Jesus Christ whom genuine Christians call Lord and Savior. These two names as we have seen in past articles here are of such importance that we Christians are 100% convinced that – to believe otherwise (that is, to believe that the Christ is not the Lord of all creation and that he is not the Savior who gave his life as a ransom to save humanity from the wrath of God that hangs over all as punishment for sin) – is a threat to immortality and a threat to eternal life after this life has passed and gone. The season that we speak about – called Advent (which in Latin is the word adventus – parousia in Greek – meaning “coming; arrival”) – revolves around the Christian beliefs of Lord and Savior and celebrates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives: (1) the physical birth of Christ in Bethlehem, (2) the reception of the Christ by faith in the heart of believers, and (3) the 2nd Coming of Christ at the end of the age. What we will provide in the article is a brief history of this season of Advent and a little bit of information regarding its traditions.
The Advent season which normally starts four Sundays before Christmas begins on the 1st Sunday (called Advent Sunday) and signifies the start of the liturgical year. The season is observed as a means of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and his return at the 2nd Coming. Advent Sunday normally begins between the 27th of November and the 3rd of December. However, when Christmas falls on a Monday, the 1st Sunday always falls on the latest possible date before Christmas. There are many practices that are generally associated with this day. Some of these practices include but are not limited to keeping an Advent calendar; lighting Avent wreathes; praying Advent daily devotionals; and/or, lighting a Christingle – a symbolic object that is used to celebrate Christ as the Light of the World.
Although the Advent season’s origin date is uncertain, most scholars are convinced that it at least existed around the period of 480 A.D. The novelty that was introduced by the Council of Tours in 567 A.D. that ordered monks to fast every day during the month of December before Christmas is a possible explanation for the existence of the Advent season during that time period. Though, a credible explanation as to the actual origin of Advent cannot be claimed with confidence. According to Saint Gregory of Tours, Advent began in the 5th Century when Saint Perpetuus, the 6th bishop of Tours, ordered that one fast be followed three times a week starting with the feast of St. Martin on the 11th of November; interestingly enough, Advent is also called the Lent of St. Martin (lent meaning “fortieth” in Latin). Advent has always been associated with fasting, known as the Nativity Fast, and is mainly practiced by Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches and thematically focuses on the proclamation and glorification of God’s Incarnate Son. Whereas the Eastern fast runs for 40 days – in recognition of the 40 days of fasting that the Lord Jesus historically took part in during his stay in the wilderness – the Western fast, which isn’t too much a common practice, runs for 4-6 weeks and focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ’s two comings: his birth, and his 2nd Coming at the end of the age. Traditions revolve around Christian preparation for the 2nd Coming, though there is also the commemoration of the 1st Coming of Christ as well. The first clear reference in the Western Orthodox and Catholic churches to Advent is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary – a book of Christian liturgy that contains the Priests’ traditions in the celebration of the Eucharist – or, the Lord’s Table. The sacramentary contains Advent Collections, Epistles, and Gospels for the last five Sundays leading up to Christmas as well as for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays. Generally speaking, though traditions vary regarding the importance of penitence and expectation during the Advent season, Sunday church readings relate specifically to the 1st coming of Christ as Savior and well as to his 2nd Coming as the judge who will bring retribution to unbelieving sinners and who will bring gracious rewards to those who share genuine faith as a blessing in accordance to their good deeds at various levels.
With regards to liturgical colors, purple is generally associated with Advent and is used for hangings on the church walls, as well as for the clergy vestments and the tabernacle. In some Christian denominations, the color blue is an alternative liturgical color since it represents hope; the blue color tradition goes all the way back to the Church of Sweden’s usage of the color and to the medieval Sarum Rite of England – as well as Mozarabic Rite in the Iberian Peninsula. The color is generally referred to as “Sarum blue.”
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