The word ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ and looks forward to the second coming of Jesus.
Christmas is one of the most significant moments in history for Christians and is celebrated around the world. It commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian church. Jesus was born in Bethlehem just outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. For Christians, it was the moment that God came to live among people as an ordinary person. The exact date of his birth is not known – it is thought to be around 5 or 6 BC. Most of the world celebrates Christmas Day on 25 December. But the Orthodox Church – which is found in Russia, eastern Europe and the Middle East – commemorates the birth of Jesus on 7 January.
For many Christians, the season of Christmas begins with a four-week period called Advent. This starts on Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. The word ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ and looks forward to the second coming of Jesus. Historically during Advent Christians have refrained from eating and drinking excessively as they look forward to marking the birth of Jesus. The period of abstaining ended with feasting on Christmas Day. The celebrations lasted 12 days, finishing with the exchanging of gifts at Epiphany on 6 January. But more recently, Advent has become a time of gathering pace and celebration as Christmas Day draws nearer. However, many Christians are trying to revive the original spirit of Advent.
Around the world, Christmas is a mixture of the spiritual and the traditional.
Around the world, Christmas is a mixture of the spiritual and the traditional. The Christmas story of Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem; Jesus’ birth in a stable and the visit of the shepherds and wise men is mixed with local folklore. Some elements are constant feature: churches gathering to celebrate Jesus’ birth with prayers and carols; feasting and the giving of presents. But some elements are unique to certain countries. Christians in some parts of the world focus more attention on Christmas Eve. Some mark St Nicholas’ Day on 6 December as the time to exchange gifts. In Mexico, the celebration of Christmas begins on 16 December with Las Posadas. It lasts nine days – to mark the journey of Mary and Joseph from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. In Spain, the Christmas season begins on 8 December with a weeklong observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In some countries Christians celebrate Christmas in secret. For example, this happened in Russia during the Soviet era when Christmas and other Christian holidays were banned. Other countries without a Christian heritage such as China are increasingly following secular elements of Christmas.