12/3: First Sunday of Advent
12/8: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Holy Day)
12/10 Second Sunday of Advent
12/17: Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent)
12/24: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Theme: His Historical and Future Coming Color: Violet
Mood: Somber anticipation, restrained joy that grows each day until Christmas,
rather like waiting for a new mother to give birth -- joyous,
yet restrained, hesitant, and humbled until the moment of the birth arrives
Symbols: Advent candles, empty crib, St. John the Baptist, the Ten Virgins
Length: the 4th Sunday before Christmas to 24 December.
The 1st of the 4 Sundays in Advent is known as "Advent Sunday";
the 3rd Sunday is known as "Gaudete Sunday."
Advent begins on the Sunday closest to - before or after - St. Andrew's Day (November 30). The focus of the season is preparation for the coming of the Lord - both in commemoration of His Nativity and His coming again at the end of time. Though most Protestants - and far too many Catholics - see this time of year as a part of the "Christmas Season," it isn't; the Christmas season does not begin until the first Mass at Christmas Eve, and doesn't end liturgically until the Octave of the Epiphany on January 14. It goes on in the spiritual sense until Candlemas on February 2, when all celebrations of Christ's Childhood give way to Septuagesima and Lent.
The mood of this season is one of somber spiritual preparation that increases in joy with each day, and the gaudy "Christmas" commercialism that surrounds it in the Western world should be overcome as much as possible. The singing of Christmas carols (which comes earlier and earlier each year), the talk of "Christmas" as a present reality, the decorated trees and the parties -- these things are "out of season" for Catholics; we should strive to keep the Seasons of Advent holy and penitential, always remembering, as they say, that "He is the reason for the Season."
To sum up the similarities and differences between Advent and Lent as penitential seasons, there's this, by Fr. Lawrence Smith:
"Advent is the time to make ready for Christ to live with us. Lent is the time to make us ready to die with Christ. Advent makes Lent possible. Lent makes salvation possible. Advent is the time when eternity approaches earth. Lent is the time when time reaches consummation in Christ's eternal Sacrifice to the Father. Advent leads to Christ's life in time on earth. Lent leads to Christ's eternal Life in Heaven. The Cross -- through the Mass, penance, and mortification -- is the bridge connecting Advent and Lent, Christ and His Church, man and God."
Each of the Church's penitential seasons is a dying to the world with the goal of attaining new life in Christ. Let us offer up sacrifices to the Lord this Advent so we may prepare ourselves for the birth of the Lord.
Though the current Code of Canon Law (1983) does not prescribe mandatory fasting practices during Advent, it has been the long Tradition of the Church to observe Advent with increased prayer and fasting. If you're interested in adding fasting and mortification to your Advent, please consider the following:
-"Advent - Preparation, Not Anticipation" by Fr. William Rock, FSSP