By Sara Millbank

I rushed around trying to find an Advent Calendar for my grandson, without a thought of why. I just knew he had to have it in place before the 1st December so he could open the first window on time. So it got me thinking – what is Advent and when does it start?

It turns out that Advent is the new year of the Christian church and the church season that leads to Christmas Day. Advent actually starts Advent Sunday and that in turn is the first of the four Sundays before Christmas Day – December 25th. So Advent actually starts this year on Sunday 30th November, so my grandson’s calendar will be slightly wrong.

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means arrival and it is a time of waiting for the arrival of Christmas. This in turn is the celebration of Jesus coming to Earth when he was born about two thousand years ago. Advent lasts until midnight on Christmas Eve leading into Christmas Day which is celebrated as Jesus’ birthday.

The beginning of Advent is when the preparation really begins with gifts being chosen and wrapped, carols sung, cards are written and posted and house decorated. It is also a time to celebrate light in the midst of darkness and to look forward. An Advent wreath is made of a circle of evergreen branches to symbolize eternal life. Traditionally five (four red and one white) candles are placed in the wreath and each one represents the journey through the Christmas story. The first red candle lit on the first Sunday of Advent is the candle of hope.

The second Sunday candle, again red, is the Candle of peace and the third is the candle of love. Finally on the fourth Sunday of advent the last red candle is lit being the candle of joy. The last central candle is white and is lit on Christmas Day and this represents the birth of Christ.

Advent Calendars can be traced back to the 19th century with first styles made of chalk line for each day in December until Christmas Eve. Some religious families used a small candle for each day and others used pictures hung on the wall. Printed calendars began to appear first from Germany, but they soon appeared quickly around the globe and chocolate-filled windows were available from 1958.

German Advent Calendars were sold until World War 11 when production stopped due to the war shortage. In 1946 Richard Selmer resumed production, but credited President Eisenhower with helping with growth, when his grandchildren appeared in a newspaper article with a Little Town Advent Calendar. There are permanent Advent Calendars with little drawers to open each day, paper or cardboard ones with windows or ones made of felt. They all aim to help with the count down to Christmas in the period known as Advent.