Christmas at the Ecomusée d'Alsace © French Moments
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Last Updated: 18 November 2023

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting and preparing for Christmas. Advent lasts for four weeks, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Lighting the first of the four candles on the Advent wreath is a tradition.

The Advent wreath materialises the traditions of Advent. The wreath is topped by four candles, symbolising the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each candle is lit on each of the Sundays before Christmas. The last candle to be lit announces that Christmas is very near. Sometimes, the wreath decoration includes holly, mistletoe and Christmas ornaments. Let’s delve into the heartwarming traditions that unfold on this significant day.


The first Sunday of Advent!

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the festive and anticipatory season leading up to Christmas, and it holds a special place in the hearts of people across France and Western Europe.

This cherished day is a time of gathering, reflection, and joyful preparation for the grand celebration of Christ’s birth. 

As the crisp air and early winter chill set in, homes and towns come alive with the spirit of Advent.

In France, this day is known as “Premier Dimanche de l’Avent,” it ushers in a period of spiritual contemplation and joyful anticipation.

In Western Europe, from Germany to the United Kingdom, the traditions share common threads that beautifully capture the season’s essence.

French Traditions of Christmas © French Moments
French Traditions of Christmas © French Moments


Lighting the first Advent candle

One of the hallmark traditions of the first Sunday of Advent is lighting the first Advent candle.

Many families have an Advent wreath adorned with four candles, each representing a week before Christmas.

On this day, the first candle is ceremoniously lit, often accompanied by a moment of prayer, reflection, or a reading from the Bible.

The candlelight serves as a symbol of hope and the approaching light of Christ.

Christmas tree ornaments © French Moments
Christmas tree ornaments © French Moments


The First Sunday of Advent in Churches

Churches also play a central role in marking the first Sunday of Advent. Many conduct special services or liturgical events focusing on the significance of this season of waiting and preparation.

The Advent wreath, prominently displayed, serves as a visual reminder of the journey towards Christmas.

Hymns and carols that speak of anticipation and the birth of Christ fill the air, creating a profoundly moving atmosphere of spiritual introspection.

Christmas in Sélestat © French Moments
An advent wreath in a St Georges church, Sélestat © French Moments


Advent calendars in France

In France, Advent calendars hold a special place in the hearts of both young and old.

These calendars, adorned with 24 windows or doors, are opened individually, starting on the first day of December or the first Sunday of Advent.

Behind each window lies a surprise – a small gift, a piece of chocolate, or a thoughtful message. These calendars evoke excitement and serve as a daily reminder of the approaching Christmas celebration.

Advent Calendar © French Moments
A pointed Advent Calendar © French Moments


Advent wreaths and other decorations

Another beloved tradition is the crafting and decoration of Advent wreaths and calendars. Families, communities, and even schools unite to create these symbols of hope and unity. Each aspect, from choosing the candles to adorning wreaths with evergreen branches, brings a sense of shared purpose and warmth.

Advent Wreath © French Moments
Advent Wreath © French Moments


A time of unity, reflection and joyful anticipation

As the day draws to a close, the spirit of the first Sunday of Advent lingers in the hearts of families and communities.

The flickering candlelight and the shared moments of reflection serve as a gentle reminder of the true meaning of Christmas – a time of hope, love, and the coming of Christ into the world.

In France and Western Europe, the first Sunday of Advent is a time of unity, reflection, and joyful anticipation.

It bridges the gap between the ordinary and the extraordinary, inviting people to embark on a journey of preparation for the grand celebration of Christmas.

As Advent unfolds, the traditions of this day continue to kindle the flame of hope and love that illuminate the path to the birth of Christ.

Advent in Wissembourg, Alsace © French Moments
Advent in Wissembourg, Alsace © French Moments

Find out more about the Advent wreath.

Christmas in Paris ebook
Journey to the Land of Christmas
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of Discovery Courses and books about France.

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