Our modern celebration of Advent looks much different than it would have been in the Middle Ages.
The St. Andrew Daily Missal explains, “In the Middle Ages a fast was prescribed during Advent known as ‘the Christmas Lent,’ when it was even the custom to veil images as at Passiontide.”
The Western Church no longer practices an extended fast during Advent, though many Eastern Christians retain this tradition in what is called “St. Philip’s Fast.”
The fast is quite rigorous and, according to one of the Orthodox churches, “The first period is November 15 through December 19, when the traditional fasting discipline (no meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil) is observed. There is dispensation given for wine and oil on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Similarly, fish, wine, and oil are permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.
Another aspect of Advent in the Middle Ages that connected it to Lent was that it extended for a full 40 days.
A remnant of this practice can be found in the celebration of four Sundays of Advent.
One tradition that we do retain in today’s observance of Advent is the wearing of violet vestments.
The color violet represents penance and sorrow for sin. It is worn during Advent and Lent, as well as other occasions connected to penance or reparation.
In some places in the Middle Ages black was worn by the priest to further associate this season as a season of intense spiritual preparation.
While “Christmas Lent” may no longer be a widely held practice in the Roman Catholic Church, it is still possible to observe this season in a similar spirit, taking advantage of this time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ.