Every year there are those who complain that our society begins preparing for Christmas too far in advance. Most department stores raise Christmas trees in their shop windows the weekend after Halloween, and carols playing over the loudspeakers at supermarkets aren’t far behind.
In the Christian church, the preparation for Christmas officially begins four Sundays before Dec. 25. Advent, which begins today, also marks the first Sunday of the church new year.
Advent, which means “coming” or “arrival,” is significant on two levels, said the Rev. Frederick Thayer, the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church.
“It is a season of preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And it’s an anticipation of the second coming of Jesus at the close of the age. The advent has to do with the first and second coming of Christ,” Thayer said.
Many churches celebrate the season with advent wreaths — a wreath of greenery with four candles around the outside and a white candle in the middle. Christians light a new candle each Sunday, ending with the center candle on Christmas day.
Thayer said the addition of a new candle each week represents a diminishing fear as the celebration of Jesus’ birth draws closer.
The Rev. Michael Burt of Grace Bible Church said the focus of the season is “the celebration of God’s gift to us.”
“Our (Christmas) gifts are commemorative of this — we are exchanging in memory of that gift,” Burt said.
Thayer said he hopes this year’s advent season will bring about a common unity among church members, in spite of their differences.