Sunday (December 1st) many of us will be opening the very first door on our Advent calendar. As this is a practice with international roots and a long history, Language Insight thought we would give you a lowdown on the season of Advent.

Advent doesn’t actually start on December 1st, but on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This could occur at any time during the week of November 27th to December 3rd and this year it is taking place the day after you open the first door on your Advent calendar – December 2nd. The season of Advent gives Christians time to spiritually commemorate the coming of Christ.

While now we open a door on a cardboard calendar – usually to find a chocolate behind it – the traditional Christian Advent calendar consists of a wreath with five candles. Four of these represent the Sundays leading up to December 25th and the one at the centre represents Christ. All the elements of this calendar are also representative of Jesus, from the holly used in the wreath symbolising the crown of thorns to the evergreen plant showing the Christian belief that God’s love is unchanging.

Red, green and gold are the colours most commonly associated with Christmas in the western world today, but the colours of Advent are traditionally purple and blue. These are also the colours of the candles on church wreaths, with each included to commemorate something different: the first for hope, the second for peace, the third for love and the fourth for joy.

As you’re enjoying the first chocolate from your calendar, keep in mind that originally this was seen as a period of fasting. It was not only enjoyable food that was limited either, but also fun activities like dancing. The office Christmas party would certainly have been off the cards!

Unusual practices that used to take place during the season included Calabrian pifferari – similar to bagpipe players – entering Rome to play music at the shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary, just as the Italians believed the shepherds did more than 2,000 years ago. In England, women would make dolls to represent Jesus and Mary and show them to passersby in exchange for charity.

It’s unlikely any of you will be running up a Jesus doll on your sewing machine now, and today the most popular way of marking Advent is with some sort of calendar. The tradition of counting down the days to Christmas in this way began with the Advent Clock, which held 24 candles to represent the days. The first printed Advent calendar was produced at the turn of the 20th century in Germany and featured verses from the bible behind each of the doors.

The wreath also remains popular as it is easy to make and is an attractive table centrepiece. Alternatively, you can buy an Advent Candle, which you light each night and let the wax burn down to a certain point before blowing it out until the next evening.

Today, if you’re extra spoilt, you can get an Advent calendar with toys or Lego bricks behind each door, while in 2010 Porsche unveiled a calendar worth $1 million that had a new kitchen and even a yacht hidden behind its doors.

If you’re of a certain age and grew up in the UK you’ll almost certainly remember Blue Peter regularly showing us how to make an Advent Crown. Four wire coat hangers are attached to each other and wrapped with tinsel. On each Sunday of Advent, you could then hang a bauble at one of the corners of the crown to represent the candle.

However, we won’t blame you if you prefer to stick to enjoying your chocolate rather than wrestling strands of tinsel around an old coat hanger! And you may be surprised to learn that the chocolate calendar is not a recent invention, but was actually available during the 1950s.

Happy Advent everyone! Prepare for the festive break by arranging your translation and transcription cover now.