Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent?

Prepare for the Coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas

Celebrating Advent involves spending time in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. In Western Christianity, the season of 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.

What Is Advent?

All About Advent
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Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting, and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope, and joy.

Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ's first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spirit, and in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.

Definition of Advent

The word "advent" comes from the Latin "adventus" meaning "arrival" or "coming," particularly of something having great importance.

The Time of Advent

For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before 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.

For Eastern Orthodox churches which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days rather than four weeks. Advent is also known as the Nativity Fast in Orthodox Christianity.

Denominations That Celebrate Advent

Advent is primarily observed in Christian churches that follow an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons to determine feasts, memorials, fasts and holy days:


Today, however, more and more Protestant and Evangelical Christians are recognizing the spiritual significance of Advent, and have begun to revive the spirit of the season through serious reflection, joyful expectation, and even through the observance of some of the traditional Advent customs.

Origins of Advent

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Advent began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany, and not in anticipation of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the wise men and, in some traditions, the Baptism of Jesus. At this time new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40-day period of fasting and repentance.

Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate this season of Advent with the coming of Christ. Originally it was not the coming of the Christ-child that was anticipated, but the Second Coming of Christ.

By the Middle Ages, the church had extended the celebration of Advent to include the coming of Christ through his birth in Bethlehem, his future coming at the end of time, and his presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit. Modern-day Advent services include symbolic customs related to all three of these "advents" of Christ.

For more about the origins of Advent, see the History of Christmas.

Advent Symbols and Customs

Many different variations and interpretations of Advent customs exist today, depending on the denomination and the type of service being observed. The following symbols and customs provide a general overview only and do not represent an exhaustive resource for all Christian traditions.

Some Christians choose to incorporate Advent activities into their family holiday traditions, even when their church does not formally recognize a season of Advent. They do this as a way of keeping Christ at the center of their Christmas celebrations.

What Is the Advent Wreath
Daniel MacDonald / www.dmacphoto.com / Getty Images

Lighting an Advent wreath is a custom that began with Lutherans and Catholics in 16th-century Germany. Typically, the Advent wreath is a circle of branches or garland with four or five candles arranged on the wreath. During the season of Advent, one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services.

Follow these step by step directions to make your own Advent Wreath. More »

Advent Colors
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The advent candles and their colors are packed with rich meaning. Each represents a specific aspect of spiritual preparation for Christmas.

The three main colors are purple, pink, and white. Purple symbolizes repentance and royalty. Pink represents joy and rejoicing. And white stands for purity and light.

Each candle carries a specific name as well. The first purple candle is called the Prophecy Candle or Candle of Hope. The second purple candle is the Bethlehem Candle or the Candle of Preparation. The third (pink) candle is the Shepherd Candle or Candle of Joy. The fourth candle, a purple one, is called the Angel Candle or the Candle of Love. And the last (white) candle is the Christ Candle. More »

Jesse Tree for Advent
Handmade Jesse Tree. Image Courtesy Living Sweetlee

The Jesse Tree is a unique Advent tree project that can be very useful and fun for teaching children about the Bible at Christmas.

The Jesse Tree represents the family tree, or genealogy, of Jesus Christ. It can be used to tell the story of salvation, beginning with creation and continuing until the coming of the Messiah.

Visit this page to learn all about the Jesse Tree Advent Custom. More »

Alpha & Omega
Image © Sue Chastain

In some church traditions, the Alpha and Omega are Advent symbols:

Revelation 1:8
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (NIV) More »

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Fairchild, Mary. "Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/meaning-of-advent-700455. Fairchild, Mary. (2017, November 4). Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/meaning-of-advent-700455 Fairchild, Mary. "Why Do Christians Celebrate Advent?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/meaning-of-advent-700455 (accessed December 11, 2017).