Advent is the season during which Christians of various denominations spiritually prepare to celebrate Christmas. For the majority of Christians, Advent takes place yearly from the fourth Sunday before Christmas through December 24. Advent may start as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.
The term "Advent" derives from the Latin "adventus," meaning "coming." It is meant to be a time of fasting, prayer and quiet reflection on the incarnation of Christ.
The historical origin of the celebration of Advent remains unclear. The first mention of a need to spiritually prepare for Christmas was written in 380 during a synod at Saragossa.
Advent is observed by Catholics of Western Rites, as well as the Moravian, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. A similar liturgical season known as Nativity Fast is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians, Oriental Orthodox Christians and Catholics who attend Eastern Rite masses.
Many popularly held Advent traditions exist. Many Catholic households maintain an Advent wreath, a circular candle holder with four slots. A purple candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent, except the third, when a rose-colored candle is lit instead. Another popular tradition, originating with German Lutherans, is the Advent calendar. Advent calendars are small boxes with 24 separate openings, one for each day of December until Christmas. Each door contains a short prayer or Bible verse to help families reflect and prepare for Christmas. Advent calendars may also hide a small treats for children, such as toys or pieces of chocolate.