In the Eastern church it lasts from St. Martin's Day (in November), and in other churches from the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew's Day (30th of November) till Christmas. It is uncertain at what date the season, began to be observed. A canon of a council at Saragossa in 380, forbidding the faithful to be absent from church during the three weeks from the 17th of December to the Epiphany, is thought to be an early reference to Advent. The first authoritative mention of it is in the Synod of Lerida (524), and since the 6th century it has been recognized as the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Christ as Saviour, and to his second coming as Judge, special lessons are prescribed for the four Sundays in Advent. From the 6th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent; but in the Anglican and Lutheran churches the rule is now relaxed. In the Roman Catholic church Advent is still kept as a season of penitence. Dancing and festivities are forbidden, fasting enjoined and (in accordance with the symbolism of liturgical colours) purple vestments are worn in the church services.
In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which even still survive. Thus in England, especially the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry round the "Advent images," two dolls dressed to represent Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited, and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.
In Normandy farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops. In Italy among other Advent celebrations is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of the Mary, the mother of Jesus . The Italian tradition is that the shepherds played on these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to do homage to the Messiah.
See also: advent wreath