The Current Season - Advent
Advent is a season of four weeks including four Sundays the first this year being November 29, 2015. Advent derives from the Latin adventus, which means "coming." The season proclaims the comings of the Christ—whose birth we prepare to celebrate once again, who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and whose return in final victory we anticipate. Each year Advent calls the community of faith to prepare for these comings; historically, the season was marked by fasts for preparation. Each Sunday of Advent has its distinctive theme: Christ's coming in final victory (First Sunday), John the Baptist (Second and Third Sundays), and the events immediately preceding the birth of Jesus Christ (Fourth Sunday).
The lighting of the four candles during winter may well go back to the ancient fire wheel, lighted in the darkest time of year to lure the sun back and ensure another spring. Each candle has a specific meaning associated with different aspects of the Advent story. The first one almost always symbolizes expectant hope and is sometimes associated with prophecy. The others are organized around characters or themes as a way to unfold the story and direct attention to the celebrations and worship in the season, such as Peace, Love, Joy. The third (and sometimes fourth) is generally symbolic of Joy at the imminence of the coming of Christ. A fifth, white or gold, candle -- called a "Christ Candle" -- is often lit in the center on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day to signify Christ's birth. The color scheme and order of symbolic associations for the candles is largely arbitrary but several traditions have adopted them for the meaning they carry. For Catholics and Protestants alike, the color of the first, second and fourth candles are purple (or blue), but the third is often rose-colored, to joyfully represent Gaudete Sunday with a less sombre liturgy.
From the 4th century, the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed, with the Roman Catholic Church doing likewise later, but still keeping Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden, and to the present day, in accordance with the symbolism of liturgical colors, purple vestments are worn at the church services, although in recent years blue has gained favor (to make Advent more distinctive from Lent, which continues to use violet), an apparent revival of the Sarum Rite, which dates from medieval England (Sarum being the Latin name for Salisbury, where the custom of using blue vestments at this time of year originated). In the Eastern churches, red is used. A common way of marking the days of Advent, particularly among children, is an Advent Calendar, traditionally made of wood but today usually made of cardboard. Typically, there is a tab that can be unsealed and raised for each day of Advent. Something is hidden behind each tab, such as a devotional reading, a religious messages, a seasonal picture, a piece of candy, or a small item such as a toy or charm.