Advent is a season during which anticipation builds toward Christmas, the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians participate in Advent activities for approximately four weeks , beginning on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and continuing until Christmas Day.
During the season of Advent many homes use Advent Calendars to mark the days. Many Calendars are quite ornate , others are plain. In some homes a paper chain is made, and one link is removed each day so the family can sense the coming of Christmas. Many advent calendars contain doors or windows with a scripture and an activity listed for each day. Through the reading of Scripture the meaning of Christmas is shared on a daily basis.
Churches around the world will decorate their sanctuary and sometimes the entire building to build the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. The season starts with a ceremony called the Hanging of the Green. Sometimes music is performed during the event, and readers accent the service with explanations of how and why the sanctuary is being decorated. Churches use garlands, wreaths, poinsettias, candles, a special advent wreath, and Nativity sets.
The Advent wreath is a candelabra, often wrapped with a circle of evergreen symbolizing life eternal. In a ceremony first invented by St. Gelasius I prayers and readings are shared on each Sunday leading up to Christmas , with a final candle lit on Christmas even. THe candles symbolize 1 John 1:5, “God is light.” The candles are traditionally purple which represent the royalty of Christ. A pink candle is lit on the third week, symbolizing the halfway point of Advent. The final candle in the middle of the circle is white symbolizing the purity of Christ.
Each week of Advent a different theme is presented. Most commonly the themes are Hope (Isaiah 9:2); Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7, John 14:27); Joy (Isaiah 65:18, Galatians 5:22-25); and Love (Deuteronomy 10:17-19a, John 13:34-35). They can also be Waiting (Isaiah 52:7-10); Accepting (Luke 1:26-38); Journeying (Isaiah 55:6-13); and Birth (Luke 2:1-7).
In some churches the Advent Nativity set can help the season come to life. The first week Joseph and Mary are placed in the stable to await the birth of their Son. On the second week animals can be placed in the stable symbolizing Jesus is Lord of all creation. On another week shepherds appear, showing the impoverished local people who would come to worship Christ, the Great Shepherd. On the final week Magi, Wise Men or the Three Kings appear with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. On Christmas Day Jesus Himself is placed in a manger (feeding trough) to complete the joyous anticipation of His coming.
Special worship services are held each week of advent in churches, with prepared music and sermons leading up to Christmas day. On Christmas Eve special services are held. Some churches hold worship services early enough for children to attend; other churches hold a midnight worship service, ending on Christmas day. If the worship is designed for children a storyteller will read a children’s version of the Christmas story. In some worship services each individual is given a candle and during the service light is passed from candle to candle lighting the room, symbolically sharing how the light of Jesus has come into the world.
Special, unique events will be held in the Charlotte area including Walk Through Bethlehem between Concord and Mooresville, live Nativity at the Iredell County fairgrounds, and Christmas lights at Zootastic. In Wake County, NC Journey to Bethlehem comes highly recommended.