The season of Advent marks the start of the Christian year, and is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Christ.
Although it is a season of preparation, the characteristic note of Advent is expectation, rather than penitence. In this way it has a different mood from Lent. Commercial pressure has also made it harder to retain an appropriate sense of alert watchfulness in our anticipation of Christmas but, for many Christians, the Church's preparation for the coming of Christ is a powerful reminder of the real meaning of the season.
In the northern hemisphere, Advent falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas. The progressive lighting of candles on the Advent wreath, acts as a liturgical Advent calendar, and is a valuable way of involving children in the liturgy.
As Christmas draws nearer, the focus falls on John the Baptist and then, finally, on Mary, as she prepares to give birth to the Saviour.