No, it's not January 1 yet. But today is the First Sunday in Advent, which marks the new year in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. (See When Does Advent Start? for more information.) Every year, starting four Sundays before Christmas, the Catholic Church sets aside a period of time for Christians to prepare for the Birth of Christ. Historically, Advent is second only to Lent as a time of penance--especially prayer , fasting, and almsgiving.Advent 2012 is rather short: Since Advent runs through Christmas Eve (December 24), the entire season is only 23 days. (The shortest Advent can be is 22 days; the longest is 28.) That means that, if we want to prepare properly for Christmas, we'd better get the ball rolling. Here are some articles to get you started!