The Christian year begins in late November, with the four-week season of preparation known as ‘Advent’. For Christians, preparation for Christmas is not simply the crescendo of excitement that has come to typify the Christmas season. This season of watchfulness and expectation is meant to prepare the heart for the second coming of Jesus Christ, i.e. the “advent” of Christ, as well as for the celebration of Jesus’ birth some 2,000 years ago.
In many churches and Christian homes, the period of preparation is kept by the weekly lighting of Advent candles, one on the first Sunday in Advent, two on the second and three on the third. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, just before Christmas, all four candles are lit. The lighting of candles draws upon ancient traditions of kindling fires at the time of the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year. From the fourth century, the celebration of Christ’s birth was set on December 25, the time of the Roman celebration of the “Sol Invictus,” the “Unconquered Sun,” at the time of the winter solstice when days began to lengthen once again.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)