In Western Christianity, Advent denotes the start of the Christian year, with the Advent season beginning on the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day (30 November) and continuing through to Christmas Day. The focus of the season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in his first Advent as well as the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his second Advent. It is also a time for Christians to reflect and prepare for the annual celebration of Christ’s birth, Christmas. Traditionally, this practice involved fasting or abstaining from foods such as meat and other animal products, but these restrictions have relaxed somewhat in recent years. In Eastern Christianity, a Nativity Fast takes place instead of Advent. This lasts for forty days, beginning on the day after the Feast of St Phillip the Apostle (14 November).
Advent Wreaths are used in churches and in some Christian homes. These consist of a ring of symbolic evergreen foliage and berries adorned with four red and purple candles. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third, and all four on the fourth. Some people include a fifth candle in the centre, which they light along with the other four candles on Christmas Day.
In many churches, a Christingle service is held for children on the first Sunday in Advent. Meaning ‘Christ Light’, a Christingle is an orange wrapped with a cross of red ribbon, studded with cloves and topped with a candle. Each part of the Christingle has special symbolism to help Christian children to understand the importance of Jesus and the Gospel. The orange represents the world, the red ribbon symbolises the love and blood of Christ, the dried cloves represent all of God’s creations, and the lit candle symbolises Christ’s light in the world, bringing hope to people living in darkness. During the evening Christingle service, the lights in the church are turned out and one candle lit. Symbolising the Light of Christ, this flame is then passed from candle to candle around the church congregation, who then process around the church with their illuminated Christingles.
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