Most secular holidays are limited to one day only – or if we’re lucky, we get an entire weekend. But religious holidays, on the other hand, are often days or even weeks long: the 40 days of Lent, the month of Ramadan, or the eight days of Hanukkah are all examples.

In the United States, the more secular observances of Christmas take two days: one for Christmas Eve, and one for Christmas Day. But Christmas is actually a more extended holiday in religious observance: the Season of Advent. Today, November 30, is the First Sunday of Advent, the day on which Christian worshippers all over the world will begin a month-long contemplation of what the birth of Christ means in their lives, and what the anticipated Second Advent (or second coming of Christ) will mean to their futures.

While it’s hardly groundbreaking to comment that Christianity is at base a break-off sect of Judaism – with the Jewish Torah incorporated more or less intact into Christian worship as the Old Testament of the Bible – it’s important to keep that fact in mind when considering the celebration of the Season of Advent. Half of the meaning of Advent is the anticipated return of Christ, but the other half is a remembrance of the early Jews, and their long wait for the promised Messiah. An interesting contradiction within the meaning of Advent arises when one considers that Jews who remained Jews after the birth of Christ did not, by definition, recognize him as a Messiah – hence, Advent remembers the patience of a group of people who still don’t believe that their patience has been rewarded.

Advent is, therefore, a fascinating example of the way in which Jews and Christians – who share so much in terms of philosophical and moral tradition – were irrevocably split into two completely separate religious groups by the birth of one man, 2,000 years ago. This puts Advent into a social, rather than a spiritual, context, but it also illustrates how powerful the idea of Christ must be, to exert so much influence after so long a time.

And that power is at the heart of the Christian celebration of the Season of Advent, which is in turn at the heart of what sets Christianity apart from other major religions. The recognition of Christ as the Messiah is the unique, inescapable definition of Christian belief – and the belief that Christ will come again makes Advent the time of anticipation and hope that it is for Christian worshippers.

A variety of Christian churches in the Santa Barbara area will be observing Advent today and throughout the month leading up to Christmas. Here are three of the many ways you can celebrate the Season of Advent.

Participate in the Advent Conspiracy: Many churches across the nation are promoting what they call the Advent Conspiracy, which is essentially a way of looking at the Season of Advent, and Christmas, in a non-consumerist way. Philanthropy, thoughtful and inexpensive gifts, and observing Christmas in a more religious way are all a part of the movement. For more information, contact the Santa Barbara Community Church at 687-7797, or visit either or

Listen to the 25th Annual Advent Organ Series: Music is both a highly traditional and a highly pleasurable way to celebrate Christmas and the Season of Advent. Four Sundays in a row, from November 30 to December 21, four different concert organists will perform classic selections at the Trinity Episcopal Church at 1500 State St. Each concert will last one hour, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 687-0189 or visit

Read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wooten Major: The author of the Lord of the Rings was also a distinguished scholar and a devout Christian. The Santa Barbara Anglican Church of Our Savior has chosen one of his lesser-known stories as their Advent Reading. For more information, call 563-0176 or visit

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