For Christians, one of the holiest times of the year is the four weeks before Christmas, a period known as Advent. Here are five things to know about the beginning of the new Christian calendar.

For Christians, one of the holiest times of the year is the four weeks before Christmas, a period known as Advent. Here are five things to know about the beginning of the new Christian calendar.


Reason for the season


Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists draw upon the same sets of Old and New Testament readings to prepare for Jesus’ birth, says Dr. Susan Ross, chairman of Loyola University Chicago’s Theology Department.


Credit the Romans


Advent, which means “the coming” or “arrival” in Latin, is traced to the early Middle Ages, but it didn’t become an accepted facet of the Christian faith until the Holy Roman Empire legalized Christianity in the fourth century, Ross says. The Romans merged the season with their winter solstice celebrations, she says.


Advent candles


A wreath with four candles represents Jesus as “the light of the world,” Ross says. Three candles are purple — the color symbolic of penitence and royalty. They acknowledge Jesus’ inevitable death and his role as the “king” of the church. The fourth is rose-colored, representing joy as the time of Jesus’ birth draws near.


Advent wreath


The addition of the wreath to the weekly candle-lighting ceremony can be traced to the European use of evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and hope, the Christian Research Institute says. It’s why red and green have become known as Christmas colors, the group says.


Las Posadas


In the Mexican Advent tradition, family and friends gather between Dec. 16 and 24 to recreate the journey of Mary and Joseph as they tried to find accommodations before Jesus’ birth, Ross says. They are turned away at each home they visit until they reach the designated home that finally gives them refuge.