The official lead up to Christmas is upon us, with Advent Sunday marking the start of the season.
But what exactly is Advent, and how do we celebrate it in the UK? This is what you need to know.
What is Advent?
The season of Advent refers to the period of time in the Christian church calendar when Christians prepare themselves for the birth of Jesus Christ on 25 December, Christmas Day.
The name, Advent, comes from the Latin word “adventus”, which translates roughly to “coming” or “arrival”, specifically referring to something of great importance.
According to Christianity, during the 4th and 5th centuries, “Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, and his first miracle at Cana”.
During this period of time, Christians would spend 40 days in penance and would fast to prepare for the celebration.
By the 6th century, Advent was tied to the coming of Christ, but at this time the coming refers to Christ’s second coming in the clouds, not his first coming in the manger at Bethlehem.
The Advent season became associated with Christ’s first coming at Christmas by the Middle Ages.
When is Advent 2021?
While you might assume that the season of Advent begins on whatever day 1 December lands on, that’s not actually the case.
The beginning of Advent is marked by Advent Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday closest to November 30, meaning Advent 2021 will start on Sunday 28 November this year.
The way that the start of Advent is determined means that the date can vary between 27 November and 3 December each year, with occasional clashes with the Scottish celebration of St Andrew’s Day on 30 November.
In the event that Advent begins on the same date as St Andrew’s Day in Scotland, the Scottish bank holiday is pushed back a day later to Monday 1 December.
No matter when Advent Sunday begins, observance of Advent always lasts until 24 December, Christmas Eve, which in 2021 lands on a Friday.
How is Advent celebrated?
For many of us, Advent equals advent calendars filled with chocolate hidden behind 25 doors.
The tradition of advent calendars traces back to German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries, as a way for children to count down the days to Christmas.
In the 1900s, the first paper advent calendars were produced in Germany, using traditional festive scenes like snowmen and robins, with a picture hidden behind each of the 25 doors.
Traditionally, these calendars were reusable, and are the reason behind the misconception that Advent begins on 1 December.
Because of the way that the start date of Advent can vary, these calendars simply decided to adopt 1 December as their start date, to allow for reuse no matter the official start date of Advent each year.
Gerhard Lang is widely credited as the creator of the advent calendar similar to what we know and love today, as he was inspired by his mother who, when he was a child, would help him count the days to Christmas by hiding 24 sweets behind cardboard squares.
The first mass produced chocolate based advent calendar came around in the 1950s, with Cadbury taking the concept to the mainstream in 1971.
Other traditional ways of marking Advent include an Advent candle which is burned - some churches have an advent wreath with five candles, one for each of the four Sundays in the run up to Christmas, and one for Christmas Day itself.
Additional celebrations include decorating Christmas trees, singing carols and taking part in prayers.
A message from the editor:Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.