(CNN) — Wreaths, candles and calendars. These are sure signs of Advent for many Christian groups around the world.
The word Advent derives from the Latin adventus, which means an arrival or visit. Advent is the beginning of the spiritual year for these churches, and it's observed the four Sundays before Christmas Day. In 2018, Advent starts December 2. Each Sunday has a different spiritual theme and often involves the ceremonial lighting of an Advent candle in anticipation of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Eastern Orthodox churches mark the lead-up to Christmas with a Nativity Fast, which starts on November 15.
As with many aspects of any religion, customs and practices vary from place to place.
Here are some Advent and general Christmas traditions in various countries around the world. We're also including a possible house of worship to visit and a hotel to consider for your stay if you decide to travel to these places to celebrate Advent:
Austria is the birthplace of one of the most beloved Christmas hymns, "Silent Night." The hymn is called "Stille Nacht" in German (the native language of Austrians), and it was penned during the Christmas of 1818, according to the website German-way. The English version of the hymn we sing today has some variation from the original, but anyone visiting Austria who happens to catch a performance should immediately recognize the soothing sound. House of worship: Salzburg Cathedral is an iconic symbol of this Austrian city. Built in the same location as two previous churches, the foundation for the current Baroque structure with its two commanding towers was laid in 1641. (Kapitelplatz 2, PO Box 62, 5010 Salzburg, Austria; +43 662 65901 515 ) Where to stay: The Hôtel Bristol Salzburg evokes the splendor and elegance of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is near tourist attractions such as Mirabell Palace. (Makartplatz 4, 5020 Salzburg, Austria; +43 662 8735570)
St Ignatius Cathedral reopened in December 2017 after a two-year renovation.
China might not immediately come to mind when you think of Advent, but roughly 5% of the population of 1.38 billion is Christian. Chinese Christians light up their homes with colorful paper lanterns during Advent, and you might find red paper pagodas cut out and placed in windows. They follow many of the traditions that were brought by Western missionaries. For shoppers, Christmas markets are starting to become more popular in Shanghai, which has had more historical exposure to Western influence than most of the country. House of worship: In Shanghai, St. Ignatius Cathedral is modeled on Western-style architecture and was built in 1906. It was damaged during China's Cultural Revolution, but it has since been restored. In Shanghai, it's called Xujiahui Catholic Church (No.156 Puxi Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai 200000, China) Where to stay: The Fairmont Peace Hotel is an Art Deco wonder and reminder of Shanghai in the 1930s. It's on the famed Bund, home to some of the city's best shopping. You'll also find the acclaimed Jazz Bar here. (20 Nanjing Road East, Shanghai, China 200002; + 86 21 6138 6888)
About 86% of the people in this Balkan Peninsula country are Roman Catholic, and Advent is a big part of the religious life here. For some Croatians, preparations for Christmas actually begin before Advent on November 25, which is Sveta Kata (St. Catherine's Day). Visitors to the capital, Zagreb, will find a city in full throes of Advent and Christmas spirit in December, with wooden stalls selling handcrafted souvenirs, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. If you're there on Christmas Eve, you can join the tradition of eating "bakalar" (a type of dried cod). House of worship: Zagreb Cathedral of the Assumption is the tallest building in Croatia, and this neo-Gothic structure holds what is considered one of the most splendid organs in the world. (10000 Zagreb, Croatia; +385 1 481 4727) Where to stay: Hotel Jägerhorn goes back to 1827, making it the oldest standing hotel in Zagreb. But while you're soaking in the history, your rooms will be decidedly 21st-century comfortable. (Ilica 14, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia; +385 1 4833 877)
Families across Germany will set up an Advent wreath with four candles, one for each week of Advent. They may gather around the wreath each Sunday to sing carols and light another candle. Stollen, which is similar to fruitcake, is one of the oldest Christmas treat traditions in Germany. And Advent hosts may serve cookies that are spread around their wreaths. Munich, with its famed Christmas markets, Advent concerts and nearby snow-capped mountains, is a wonderful city to visit this time of year. House of worship: Asam Church is far from Munich's largest, but it might be its most ornate. One reason for its size -- two brothers built it originally as a private chapel. Another plus: The tiny Baroque masterpiece might be less crowded with fellow tourists. (Sendlinger Str. 32, 80331 Munich, Germany; +49 89 2368 7989) Where to stay: Set in a 19th-century house, each room at Hotel Opera has a distinctive boutique look, and its location is ideal for shopping, museums and visiting Christmas markets. (St.-Anna-Strasse 10, 80538 München, Germany; +49 89 2104940)
Beiglis are a traditional Hungarian treat.
These are a daily Mass held every dawn from the first Sunday of Advent to the first day of Christmas. You may hear it called the Angelic Mass or Golden Mass.
Hungarians are a music-loving people, and various Christmas concerts are held around the capital of Budapest and other cities and towns.
House of worship: St. Stephen's Basilica is the largest church in Budapest and a relative newcomer by European historical standards, consecrated in 1905 after decades of construction. In addition to the impressive neoclassical architecture, the views from the top are reportedly spectacular. (Szent Istvan ter 1, Pest, Budapest 1051, Hungary) Where to stay: The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace offers five-star luxury in a perfect location (facing the Danube at the foot of the Chain Bridge), and the building itself is an art nouveau stunner. (Szechenyi Istvan ter 5 - 6, Budapest 1051 Hungary; +36 1 268 6000)
Advent in Mexico brings the religious ceremonies known as Las Posadas (Spanish for "The Inns.") This nine-day celebration that marks the journey of Mary and Joseph is held from December 16 to 24.
Each evening in cities and villages across Mexico, a child dressed as an angel leads a processional, usually made up of children. They go to selected homes, where they are denied entry but often given refreshments.
This custom is followed in some parts of the United States and Latin America, too. Mexico City offers you a chance to enjoy a Mexican Christmas in its culture-filled capital. House of worship: Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Latin America. Construction on it took more than two centuries, so you'll see a mix of architectural styles as a result. (Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de la Constitución, Centro, Mexico City, Mexico, +52 55 5510 0440) Where to stay: The 36 rooms of the Hotel Carlota have a boutique, modernist flair with artwork from the country. It's in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, named after an Aztec leader and considered the historical and cultural heart of the capital. (Río Amazonas 73, Col. Renacimiento, Cuauhtémoc, 06500 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico; +52 55 5511 6300)
For deeply Catholic Poland, Advent brings prayer, fasting and spiritual preparation for Christmas, according to the Polish Women's Alliance of America. People stay inside during the long, dark evenings making decorations for the Christmas tree and handmade gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and preparing other delicacies for the upcoming holidays. Poles attend early-morning Masses called roraty. It's still dark out when they start. Attendees light candles during Mass, symbolizing the coming light of day and salvation.
Krakow marks the first Sunday of Advent by decorating beautiful Rynek Square square with lights, boughs and garlands.
House of worship: Construction of St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow started in the late 1200s, and it was consecrated in 1320. The stunning basilica has undergone numerous renovations since then. Its asymmetrical towers make a memorable sight. (Plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Kraków, Poland; +48 12 422 05 21) Place to stay: If you're looking for a special place to stay, consider the Hotel Copernicus, where you can enjoy an Old World atmosphere with modern conveniences. It has a spa to help you relax after a busy day of sightseeing. (Kanonicza 16, 31-001 Kraków, Poland; +48 12 424 34 00)
While many Advent and Christmas traditions go back centuries in the United Kingdom, Christingles is a relatively new observance here. It started with the Moravians in 1740s Germany, but it wasn't celebrated in the UK until the late 1960s. The word can mean both a symbolic item and a service. You make Christingles from an orange, which you decorate with a candle, red tape and sweets.
The Christingles service might involve prayers, readings and singing. It also serves as a fundraiser for children's charities. It can be held at the start of Advent all the way to Candlemas, but Christmas Eve is a popular time to hold a service.
House of worship: Salisbury Cathedral is one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in the United Kingdom and has Britain's tallest spire. Its foundation stones were laid in 1220. If you time your visit, you might can attend one of the Anglican cathedral's Advent services. (6 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EJ, UK; +44 1722 555120) Where to stay: In nearby Wilton, the Pembroke Arms is a small family-run inn with a mix of Georgian and Victorian styles. There's an informal dining room with selection of seasonal dishes. (Minster St, Wilton, Salisbury SP2 0BH, UK; +44 1722 743328)