Advent (from the Latin
Adventus) corresponds to the period preceding the Coming of the Child Jesus. Its celebration was promulgated by the Council of Toledo in 656. Up to the 8th century, Advent was a copy of Lent preceding the Easter celebration and lasted about forty days. It was a period of contemplation, mixing fasts and shared joys, announcing the coming of the Lord. In the northern hemisphere, it was associated with the plunge into obscurity of longer and longer nights till winter solstice, followed by the progressive lengthening of the days and elevation towards light.
Afterwards, Advent covered the period of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The date of the first Sunday was set as close as possible to Saint Andrew's Day (November 30th), that is to say the earliest on November 27th and the latest on December 3rd.
The Advent's time is marked by an opening to others and a strengthening of family and friendly links. The preparations of Christmas notably take place in the kitchens with the cookie making, which smell spice and are destined to fill up iron boxes carefully concealed from children's eyes. These baking moments are joyous occasions, brightened with songs heard since the early childhood. Each Advent Sunday, parents and friends meet around the table decorated with candles and covered with plates full of cookies and cups of hot drinks, the whole bathing in a heralding musical background. The doors remain open to visitors desirous to share these jubilant moments.
Streets are illuminated, squares paved with wooden shops offering decorative objects and hot wine flavoured with dried fruit; the shopping avenues resound with songs broadcasted by loud speakers or interpreted by the Salvation Army concerned by the lot of the most destitute. The British writer, Charles Dickens, perfectly described the atmosphere of Christmas in industrial England in the middle of the 19th century. His famous “Christmas carol” has become emblematic of the magic transformation that can operate in these moments of deep joy. The story presents a cantankerous and miserly old person, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by a dead associate during the Christmas' night. After having been told about the strong meanness of his existence, Ebenezer becomes aware of his inordinate selfishness and undertakes a near initiatory journey opening on sharing and gladness. Under moralizing appearances, Dickens instils in this story the true Christmas spirit made of warmth, joy and generosity. What a contrast with the current Christmas' Eve and the rushing to department stores.
Days and weeks of this Christmas announcing time are particularly marked by religious customs. The use of Advent's calendar and crown in Protestant regions and the crib's realization in Catholic ones.