The term “Advent” has become wildly popular on social media, especially with the rise of the modern-day Advent calendar. From chocolate samples to beauty supplies, an Advent calendar counts down the 24 days to Christmas with a little treat to open every day.
They’re a great way to get in the holiday spirit. But did you know that the season of Advent actually has a much deeper, ancient meaning?
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin definition “to arrive.” During the month-long Advent period, Christians direct their hearts and minds to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth, and to the expectation of His second coming at the end of time. The recognition of Advent dates back to the fifth century, after the date of Christmas was fixed in the fourth century. You can read about its history in more detail here.
Advent lasts four Sundays and marks the beginning of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. Every Sunday, one candle on an Advent wreath is lit. There are four candles on the wreath – three purple and one pink. Purple symbolizes penance and pink symbolizes joy. The Advent wreath reminds us to repent of our sins, while also rejoicing at the coming of Christ.
Contrary to popular belief, Catholics who recognize the season of Advent do not typically engage in material indulgence in the days leading up to Christmas. Instead, many revive their prayer routines, attend mass more frequently, or study scripture. Advent often serves as a wake-up call for Christians to renew their desire for the Lord in their lives.
At Florida State University, members of the Catholic Student Union actively acknowledge the Advent season. In fact, many say that this period of time shapes their lives for the better.
Adrienne Lesho, a junior, shared about how she practices Advent:
“I tend to focus on God’s willingness to be vulnerable with us by becoming man. As someone who is more closed off and self-reliant, I find that the one person I can truly be vulnerable with is Jesus. It’s the least I can do for someone who loves me so unconditionally that He became a defenseless child in order to grow closer to me. Advent reminds me to not be so hard on myself and encourages me to open up to more people. I tend to prepare for Christmas by making an effort to meet new people and learn their names, plus by giving my time to community service rather than indulging excessively during the holiday season.”
Javi Mariscal, Vice President of the Catholic Student Union, also gave his input:
“For Catholic students like me, Christ is not merely a nice idea, he isn’t even just a great moral teacher. He is the fulfillment of all human desire and the man who triumphs over death itself. He is God. Christ’s divinity means that He, and only He, can be properly worshiped. This is why during Advent I go to confession often, I fast from social media, and I strive to increase in virtue. I do this because part of the meaning of advent is taking all your desires, hopes, and fears, and orienting them to Christ, who is the source of all that is good.”
Many who celebrate Advent in a religious manner worry that its true meaning will be forgotten. The secularization of the Advent calendar is similar to the secularization of Christmas, which has been shown in recent Gallup polls. Since 2005, the percentage of Americans who celebrate Christmas in a strongly religious manner dropped from 47% in 2005, to 35% in 2019. The proportion of those who celebrate Christmas in a non-religious manner rose from 19% in 2005, to 26% in 2019. Although Christmas traditions can be shared by all, regardless of religious affiliation, it is important to respect and recognize its real meaning.