The Christian church year begins with Advent (from the Latin adventus meaning coming or arrival) which is also a time when Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Advent begins on the Sunday nearest November 30 (St. Andrew's Day) and lasts until Christmas Eve.
Advent has been celebrated since the 500's CE. For many centuries, it was a strict observance marked by penitence. Gradually, this time has become more joyful as Christ's coming is celebrated and preparations are made for his Second Coming.
Clergy typically wear royal purple or royal blue vestments during Advent. Many churches also include an advent wreath in their Advent services. The wreath consists of four candles (three purple and one rose) arranged in a circle of evergreen which symbolizes eternal life. The candles are lit progressively as follows:
The rose candle is also called the "Joy" candle and it comes out of the history of Advent. The Advent fast was broken on the third Sunday in anticipation of the great event to come. Often a fifth white candle will be placed in the center of the circle. This is the Christ Candle, symbolizing Christ's birth, and it is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.