Advent (from the Latin Adventus, "coming," sc. Redemptoris, " the coming of the Savior"), a term used in Christian tradition, refers to the "Coming of the Savior" or "the Christ," and is also related to the Second Coming of Christ referred to as the Second Advent. Thus, for Christians, since Advent represents the coming or birth of Christ, the period prior to the birth and celebration, has grown into a very significant preparation period, a holy season of the Christian church, often marked by special prayers, fasting, and other spiritual reflections and exercises, as well as special celebrations, events, and festivals at Christmas, the day of the celebration of the Christ's birth. Other religious traditions maintain similar ideas and expectations regarding the "Coming of a Savior," including Buddhism Meitreya, Hinduism Avatar, Judaism Messiah, Zoroastrianism Saoshyans, and Islam Imam-Mahdi. This remarkable coincidence of expectations for a saving human intervention, for the sake of believers in these faith traditions, ties back to the overall Providence. Advent reinforces the purpose of religion as the reunification of humankind with the Creator.
Advent (and adventism) has its roots in Hebrew and Christian prophetic, messianic, and millennial traditions and expectations found in the Bible (see also Millenialism). In Eastern Orthodox churches—where it is also called the Nativity Fast, Winter Lent, or the Christmas Lent—it lasts 40 days, beginning on November 15, and in other churches from the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30) until Christmas. It is uncertain at what date the season began to be observed. A canon of a council at Saragossa in 380, forbidding the faithful to be absent from church during the three weeks from the 17th of December to the Epiphany, is thought to be an early reference to Advent. The first authoritative mention of it is in the Synod of Lerida in 524 and the Council of Tours in 567. From the sixth century it has been recognized as the beginning of the Western ecclesiastical church year.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The earliest Advent can begin is November 27 and the latest is December 3. Very often Advent begins on the Sunday after the American holiday Thanksgiving. Technically speaking, Advent ends on December 23. However, if December 24, Christmas Eve, should fall on a Sunday, the Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Mass still applies. Christmas Eve is treated as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the Vigil of Christmas is commemorated in the Mass. If December 24 occurs during the week, it is not considered a part of Advent. The Mass of the Vigil is said.
From the sixth century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent commencing in some localities on November 11, the feast day of St. Martin. The fast became known as "St. Martin's Fast" or "St. Martin's Lent," but in the Anglican and Lutheran churches this rule was relaxed. 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 prohibited. To the present day, in accordance with the symbolism of liturgical colors, purple vestments are worn by the priests at church services. In recent years blue has gained favor as an apparent revival of the Sarum Rite, which dates from medieval England. Sarum is the Latin name for Salisbury, where the custom of using blue vestments at this time of year originated.
With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Christ as Savior, and to his Second Coming as Judge, special lessons are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent. They are traditionally celebrated with four candles, often on an Advent wreath, with one to be lit each Sunday. The first, second, and fourth are purple (or blue), but the third is often pink, to represent Gaudete Sunday with a more joyful liturgy than the other three Sundays in Advent.
In many countries, Advent was marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. Thus in England, especially the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry round the "Advent images," two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny 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. In Italy, during the last days of Advent, the Calabrian pifferari or bagpipe players come to Rome and play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Italian tradition is that the shepherds played on these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the Messiah.
While considered a penitential season in the Christian tradition, Advent is not considered as strict as Lent, and generally fasts are no longer required. In many places it is marked by popular observances, mentioned above, including the lighting of Advent candles.
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