Advent is four weeks long and marks the beginning of the Christian year. The first Sunday of Advent is always four Sundays before Christmas, which means it could be as early as 27 November.

The word ‘advent’ literally means ‘coming’ and it is a time of reflection on the coming of Christ into the world at his birth. It is also a time of preparation when Christians think about the second coming of Christ and what they need to do to be ready for his return. For Christians, Advent is not just a time of excitement - there is also a sense of seriousness and self-examination.

During Advent, particular readings from the Bible are used at some church services. From the Old Testament there are readings about the promised Messiah. From the New Testament there are readings about the time leading up to the birth of Jesus. There may also be special focus on John the Baptist, who was important in preparing the way for the coming of Jesus.

Advent customs

  • The Advent wreath – this is a circle of evergreen leaves, representing eternal life. There are four white candles on the wreath and one candle is lit on each of the Sundays of Advent. A fifth candle, usually red, is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The candles symbolise Jesus as the light of the world.
  • The Advent calendar – this is a German tradition, dating back for a hundred years or so. By opening the 24 doors on the calendar children are encouraged to think about the passing days of Advent. The traditional Advent calendars had a Bible verse or picture behind each door, but nowadays it is usually a piece of chocolate.
  • Charity events – As Advent is traditionally a time for Christians to think about how they can change for the better, some charities give the opportunity for practical action. One such event at this time of year is the Concern sponsored fast. Also during Advent, Christian Aid provides resources for schools and churches to think about others.
A traditional advent wreath with four candles and berries