What is Advent Sunday and what does it mean?

What is Advent Sunday and what does it mean?
The fourth Sunday before Christmas marks the start of the Advent season for Christians

When advent calendars start appearing on supermarket shelves and in homes, we know that the countdown to Christmas is almost here.

While the classic chocolate advent calendars still reign supreme, there are now all sorts of advent calendars on the market – from beauty to extraordinarily-priced luxury jewellery advent calendars, to quirky food and drink ones that could contain anything from hot sauces to gins.

But the advent season isn’t all about the treats behind each calendar door. Among practicing Christians, the season is a time of waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here’s everything you need to know about Advent Sunday and the advent season:

What is Advent Sunday?

Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, and marks the start of the season of Advent.

The word “advent” is derived from the Latin word “adventus”, which means “coming” – which refers to the coming of Christ.

Advent Sunday can fall on any date between 27 November and 3 December, depending on what day Christmas is. In 2021, Advent Sunday falls on 28 November and the season of Advent ends on Friday 24 December.

What happens on Advent Sunday?

On this day, Christians start praying their Advent daily devotional, light their Advent wreaths and put up their Christmas trees and decorations.

The first appearance of an Advent wreath was traced to 1839, when a Lutheran minister in Germany created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart, according to Christianity.com.

The minister placed 20 small red candles and four large white candles inside the ring, with the red candles being lit on weekdays and the white ones on Sundays.

Those attending mass on Advent Sunday will traditionally hear scripture readings related to the Old Testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors.

During this first Sunday of Advent, Christians look forward to the second coming of Christ and are called to remind themselves to watch and wait for his return, while at the same time reflecting his first coming.

What happens during the Advent season?

The most common Advent candle tradition is to light one candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.

Traditionally, each candle represents hope, faith, joy and peace. Sometimes, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and lit on Christmas Day.

It is believed that the Advent season has been in existence since the fifth century, and was largely observed by monks who were ordered to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas.

Fasting is still practiced among some worshippers today, in a similar fashion to Lent, which takes place in the 40 days before Easter.

Many churches also hold special music events over the Advent season, with popular hymns like “O come, O come, Emmanuel” sung to celebrate the coming of Christ.

When Christmas Eve arrives, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is traditionally held. The special worship service tells the congregation nine short Bible readings that lead up to the birth of Christ, interspersed with Christmas carols, hymns and choir anthems.