In the Western Christian practice, Advent is the festive season of expecting and preparing for the Nativity of Jesus. It is the beginning of the liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, known as Advent Sunday, which this year falls at 3 December.
In the Eastern Christian tradition, where the focus is more on the Incarnation of God, the Advent period is a time of abstinence that runs for forty days (from 15 November to Christmas) and is called the Nativity Fast, or the St. Philip’s Lent in the Greek Church.
The term advent, itself, is naturally of Latin origin, deriving from adventus ‘a coming, approach, arrival,’ from ad ‘to’ + venire ‘come’ and as the translation of the Greek parousia that is used when referring to the Second Coming of Christ.
Why the Second Coming? The Advent celebrations most likely started in the fifth century France with an order of Saint Perpetuus, Bishop of Tours, establishing a rule that one must fast three times per week from 11 November, the Day of St. Martin until Christmas, the Council of Tours mentioned an Advent season in 567, and a Synod held in 590 established that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11 November until the Nativity would be offered according to the Lent rite.
And it was Pope Gregory the Great who in around 600 shortened the 40 days Lent to the 4 Sundays patterns familiar to us today.
At that time, however, the Roman Church had tied Advent to the Christ’s Second Coming, the expected Judgement Day when Jesus comes from the sky as the judge of the sinners, now called the Second Advent or the Parousia, and it was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season explicitly came to refer to the First Coming of Christ, his Incarnation in Bethlehem at Christmas.
In the English language, the term advent was first recorded as the advent domini (the coming of Christ) in the Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church and the English translation of The Sermones Caholici, circa 520. Followed by the first use to name the first Sunday of December coming from the 963 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the next two decades seeing the term describing the ecclesiastical season immediately preceding Christmas, and coming to the term synonymous to Christ’s Incarnation, as first recorded by John Wyclif circa 1425.
Nowadays, while the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches observe the 40 days Nativity Fast, the Western Catholics anticipate the Coming of Christ by keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, as well as other preparatory ceremonies done liturgically, and everyone is in hectic and joyful preparations for the celebration of the Christmas season.