The name was adopted from Latin adventus: coming or arrival. In the New Testament, this is the term used for the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the season of Advent anticipates the "coming of Christ" from three different perspectives: the physical nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, and the eschatological Second Coming.
The liturgical color for Advent has been purple since approximately the 13th century. Purple is often used for antependia, the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the color rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. The Methodist Book of Worship identifies purple or blue as appropriate for Advent.
It is not known when Advent began. According to Saint Gregory of Tours the celebration of Advent began in the fifth century when the Bishop Perpetuus directed that starting with the St. Martin's Day on 11 November until Christmas, one fasts three times per week; this is why Advent was sometimes also named "Lent of St. Martin". This practice remained limited to the diocese of Tours until the sixth century. The Council of Macon adopted in 581 the practice in Tours and soon all France observed three days of fasting a week from the feast of Saint Martin until Christmas. The most devout worshipers in some countries exceeded the requirements adopted by the Council of Macon, and fasted every day of Advent. The homilies of Gregory the Great in the late sixth century showed four weeks to the liturgical season of Advent, but without the observance of a fast. However, under Charlemagne in the ninth century, writings claim that the fast was still widely observed.
Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, erecting a Christmas tree or a Chrismon tree, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically through a hanging of the greens ceremony.
An Advent wreath is common in homes and Methodist churches. The concept originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape with its candles representing the Sundays of Advent. Originated in 1839 by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor in view of the impatience of the children he taught as they awaited Christmas. He made a ring of wood with nineteen small red candles and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle. Custom has retained only the large candles.
The wreath is traditionally made of fir tree branches knotted with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel, and mistletoe. It is a symbol signifying several things; the wreath symbolises victory, in addition its round form evokes the sun and its return each year. The four candles represents the four Sundays of Advent, the green twigs are a sign of life and hope. The fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel a symbol of victory over sin and suffering. Fir and holly do not lose their leaves, thus represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace, as well as the symbol of the struggle against darkness. For Christians, this wreath is also the symbol of Christ the King, the holly recalling the crown of thorns resting on the head of Christ.
The Advent wreath is adorned with candles, usually three purple and one pink, the pink candle being lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday after the opening word, Gaudete, meaning "Rejoice." A fifth candle (white), known as the Christ Candle, in the middle of the wreath, is lit on Christmas Eve or Day.