In the Christian calendar, the first season of the church year, a period of preparation for the birth of Jesus. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30 and continues until Christmas. Viewed as a penitential season, it is also considered a time of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. The origin of Advent is unknown, but it was observed as early as the 6th century. In many countries it is celebrated with popular customs such as the lighting of Advent candles.
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The progression of Advent may be marked with an Advent calendar reckoning Advent to start on 1 December, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic calendar, Advent starts on the 4th Sunday before December 25; in other words, the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming. Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a dual reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians today endure as they await the second coming of Christ.
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 Saviour, and to his second coming as Judge, special lessons are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.
A darker purple (sometimes called "Royal Purple") is used whereas in Lent the color is often a reddish purple ("Roman Purple"). This shade is used for the hangings around the church, on the vestments of the clergy, and usually the Tabernacle. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose pink is used, since this Sunday takes on a more joyous tone. In some Anglican and Lutheran churches, blue is the liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the medieval Sarum Rite. This color is often referred to "Sarum blue." In the Eastern churches, red is used.
The "Late Advent Weekdays" or 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 Church) and Evensong (in the Anglican Church) 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 Fast," "St. Martin's Lent" 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 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 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, 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.
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