In 490 A.D. Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, France, established a period of penance and preparation for Christmas in his diocese. He advocated fasting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for a forty-day period preceding Christmas. This fast period began on the day after MARTINMAS, November 11, thereby acquiring the name "St. Martin’s Lent” or "The Forty Days’ Fast of St. Martin.” The observation of a period of penance in preparation for Christmas gradually spread throughout FRANCE, and on to SPAIN and GERMANY, though it may have been largely restricted to monastic communities. In Spain groups of Christians were already fasting in preparation for Epiphany. In the early years there was little agreement regarding the dates and length of this pre-Christmas fast period. In some areas the fast began on November 11. In others, September 24, November 1, or December 1 might be the starting date. In 581 A.D. the Council of Mâcon ordered the laity throughout France to observe the forty-day period of fasting. Two hundred years later the Advent fast was adopted in England as well.
Advent was not observed in Rome until the sixth century. Pope Gregory I (590-604 A.D.) developed much of the Roman Advent liturgy and shortened the period of observance from six to four weeks. The joyous, festive spirit with which the Romans celebrated Advent clashed with the somber, penitential mood established in Gallic observances. For a number of centuries Advent celebrations throughout western Europe varied in tone, length, and manner of observance. Sometime after 1000 A.D. Rome accepted the practice of fasting during Advent, which in those times meant abstaining from amusements, travel for purposes of recreation, and marital relations, as well as certain foods. In addition, no weddings were permitted during fast periods.
By the thirteenth century the observance of Advent in western Eu-rope had stabilized. It combined the Roman tradition of a four-week observance, the Gallic custom of fasting, and a liturgy that mingled the themes of penance and joy. In recent centuries the Roman Catholic Church reduced, and eventually eliminated, Advent fasting.