A Tradition Begins
A popular Advent tradition among both Catholics and Christians is that of the Advent Wreath. It is a simple but beautiful way to capture the meaning and symbolism of Advent. The tradition of using an Advent Wreath originated in pre-Christian times. People would light candles during the winter in the absence of the sun. Sometimes there was one candle per day and in some cases the candles were placed on a wreath. During the Middle Ages, Christians adapted the wreath to serve as a preparation for Advent. During the 1600s, the Advent Wreath had become a formal Advent tradition.
More Than Meets the Eye
The Advent Wreath, as the name somewhat implies, is a circle having no beginning and no end. This symbolizes the fact that God also has no beginning and no end. It can also remind us of the unending love of God for us that brought Jesus to earth to save us from our sins so that we might in turn have eternal life in Heaven! The circle also reminds us of the immortality of our souls.
Eternity is now and the Advent Wreath can help us understand in some small way the great part we have in the story of salvation. Christ’s coming is not an event isolated only in the past or of the future because He is still ever present in our world today.
The Advent Wreath is traditionally made using evergreens: plentiful, pliable, plants which last throughout the winter. More modern wreaths may be made out of ceramic, metal, or resin and may include pictures pertaining to Advent and Christmas. Using fresh evergreens to make the wreath had great significance because Christ is the way, the truth, and the LIFE! He came to give us life and fresh branches are an excellent symbol of life and hope.
Other materials can also be used: Holly leaves and berries represent the crown of thorns and the Blood of Christ; Holly and pine represent immortality and an English legend says that the cross of Christ was made out of holly; Laurel reminds us of victory over trials and sufferings; Cedar calls to mind strength and healing; and pine cones symbolize the Resurrection.
Let There Be Light
Each Advent Wreath contains four candles, one for every week of Advent. The candles provide a strong contrast between dark and light. Jesus is the light of the world that came down to dispel the darkness that exists in our hearts and in the world because of the darkness of sin. Each week, a new candle is lighted gradually dispelling more and more of the darkness as we draw ever closer to the coming of Christ at Christmas. By the final week of Advent, all four candles are lit reminding us that the time to rejoice has finally arrived!
The candles on the Advent Wreath are three violet ones and one rose one – exactly the same as the colors of the four weeks of Advent. Some Advent Wreaths also contain a fifth white candle symbolizing purity – the Christ Candle – that can be lit during the Christmas Season.
Each candle on the Advent Wreath has a special name corresponding to a particular week of Advent.
During the first week we light the Prophet’s Candle as we focus on the virtue of hope. This week is a time to acknowledge that Jesus is coming. We should begin preparing our hearts to welcome Him at Christmas.
The second week of Advent is a time to practice the virtue of faith as we light the Bethlehem Candle. We should call to mind the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. When they arrived there was no room at the inn – no room for Jesus. It is a time to continue drawing closer to Christ so that when He comes He may find a home in our hearts.
On Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate joy and light the Shepherd’s Candle. On Christmas night the Angels appeared to the shepherds and brought them, as the Bible says, “news of great joy!”
The final week of Advent is a time of peace as we light the Angel’s Candle. We should be mindful of the Angels’ announcement of, “Peace on earth, good will to men!”
Lighting the Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath should be placed in a significant place in the home. One candle for every week of Advent may be lit starting on the Sunday. For example, on the first Sunday of Advent, the first violet candle can be lit. Some families choose to light the candles during dinner time or family prayer time.
The wreath is usually placed at the front of churches. During the celebration of the liturgy the appropriate candles are lit.
Blessing the Advent Wreath
For use in a church, a priest blesses the Advent Wreath on the first Sunday of Advent. However, for a family Advent Wreath, there is a special blessing that can be prayed by a parent or other member of the family.
“As We Await the Blessed Hope…”
These words, said during the Communion Rite, state clearly the meaning of Advent enshrined in the Advent Wreath. As we light the candles we should be grateful for the coming of Christ who came to save us from the darkness of sin and death so that we might have eternal life.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Isaiah 9:1
P.S. I’m super excited about our new Advent Angels!! I got them from my friend’s adorable shop Little Faithful Friend!