The season of Advent, which comes comes from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming" or "visit," begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the church year for Christians.
During Advent, we prepare for and anticipate the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for and need of forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.
Although we are accustomed to celebrating Christmas on a single day, in both Christian tradition and on the church calendar, the Christmas season lasts from sundown on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve) through Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6). This is sometimes referred to as "the 12 days of Christmas."
Advent begins with the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. In 2017, Christmas falls on a Monday, and Christmas Eve on Sunday night. Thus, in 2017 Advent begins Sunday, Dec. 3, and ends at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 24 three weeks plus a portion of an additional day. If Christmas comes on a Sunday, Advent will begin on Nov. 27 and last four full weeks.
The color for Advent has traditionally been purple, although some churches have adopted blue. In practice, however, as churches increasingly incorporate the symbols and decorations of Christmas during Advent, more and more red, green and gold are appearing. The United Methodist Book of Worship upholds the traditional color of purple for Advent, signifying penitence and royalty, but also allows blue, the color of hope."
Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, November–December, 2017.