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Christians light Advent wreaths in countdown to Christmas

Christians light first candle on Advent wreath to start countdown to Christmas. Photo: PA

Jane Clements from the Council of Christians and Jews writes about the importance of Advent and explains how it will be celebrated by Christian communities.

Although we may be familiar with the calendars and candles which count down to Christmas through December, for Christians it is the four Sundays before Christmas which are known as Advent.

Many people will be familiar with Advent calendars that unveil chocolate each day. Credit: CCJ

On Advent Sunday (usually the last Sunday in November), churches will often hold a special service. This is the official beginning of the church year.

The word Advent comes from the Latin for ‘coming towards’; it reminds Christians that Jesus came, as the Word of God, to humanity, which is celebrated at the festival of Christmas.

Advent is a special four week period of reflection, like Lent, in which Christians consider their lives and deeds under special themes. It is a festival of light in darkness, a time of waiting, characterised by a spirit of expectation and anticipation.

A candle is lit on the Advent wreath on the three Sundays leading up to Christmas. Credit: PA

Waiting in the darkness is a reality in many people’s lives, whether because of personal circumstances such as sickness, bereavement or depression, or because of the many conflicts and diseases in our world.

Advent is a time of ‘active hope’: there may be hope for people, but often we have to be the means of realising that hope ourselves.

Advent readings encourage Christians to prepare for God's presence, both in the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas and in images of the end of the world. There is therefore sometimes an apocalyptic feel to this season.

The final candle is lit on Christmas Day. Credit: CCJ

Through the four weeks of Advent many churches use an Advent wreath and light one of the four candles each Sunday, with the final candle being lit on Christmas Day.

The four candles relate to the themes of the four weeks, traditionally the Biblical ‘patriarchs’ – Abraham, Joseph etc. – the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. A central candle is added and lit on Christmas Day to represent Jesus himself. Christian homes will often have their own Advent wreath.

In many countries in Europe, especially Scandinavia, the festival of Saint Lucy or Santa Lucia is held during Advent December 13th.

The festival of Saint Lucy is held during Advent. Credit: CCJ

It commemorates a young girl who lived in the 4th century in Rome and smuggled food to Christians hiding from persecution in the caves or catacombs outside the city.

Traditionally she wore a candle on her head to find her way through the caves; since the name ‘Lucia’ means light, it is appropriate for Advent.

Unfortunately she was caught and killed by the Roman authorities, as Christianity was forbidden. To celebrate, in both Norway and Sweden, girls dressed as Lucy carry cakes and biscuits in procession as songs are sung. The traditional headdress for this celebration is the Advent wreath.

Events in the city

On December 6, ‘Santacon’ will be taking place, where hundreds of Londoners dressed in Santa outfits patrol the streets of the city, giving out gifts and hugs and singing carols.

Trafalgar Square

A huge Christmas tree will be lit by the Mayor of Oslo, the Mayor of Westminster and the Norwegian Ambassador at 6pm today. The tree is lit annually and is a gift from Norway to Britain.

Starting on December 16, there will be a public Chanukiah lighting service every night of Chanukah, along with doughnuts and live performances. The event is organised by the Jewish Leadership Council, The London Jewish Forum and Chabbad, with the support of the Mayor of London.

Revellers dress up in Santa Claus outfits for the Annual Santacon gathering last year. Credit: PA

Pinner and Northwood Liberal Synagogue

We will be hosting a ‘doughnuts and mince pies’ social event on December 17, with Rabbi Pete Tobias. There will be a quiz and a raffle alongside the holiday celebrations.

Brent Cross

A public Chanukah party is taking place on December 21. A ‘Latke Lounge’ will be open from 12pm where there will be Chanukah foods, arts and crafts and live music. On each night of Chanukah there will be a candle lighting at 6pm in the mall.