10 Facts about the Advent Wreath
1. THE WORD
“Advent” derives from the Latin verb “ven”, which means to come. Beginning one week after the Feast of Christ the King, and encompassing four Sundays, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Lord. One of the most familiar traditions of the season is the Advent wreath, profuse in symbolism and lavishly radiating its promise.
Though the word Advent is of Latin origin, the tradition of the wreath is probably Germanic in nature.
2. THE HISTORY
Thought to be of pre-Christian Germanic origin, people lit candles and placed them on wreaths during the dark days of December as a sign of hope for the light to come with spring. Over time, the wreath was adapted by Christians, likely during the Middle Ages, to spiritually prepare for Christmas with Christ as the Light of the World.
3. THE SHAPE
Christ is eternal; He has neither a beginning nor an end. We can say the wreath itself reminds us of Christ’s eternal presence with its circular shape.
As far back as the seventh century, wreaths were used in baptismal and wedding ceremonies.
4. THE COMPOSITION
The tradition began with evergreen wreaths. Considering that this tradition goes way back, we might safely assume that people used what was available. Evergreens, plentiful and pliable, would have been a logical resource. Over time, people figured out how to use other materials, so wreaths are now made of metal, resin, ceramic…
To Catholics, evergreen symbolizes life. It remains green and alive even in the dead of winter.
5. THE CANDLES
Rich in symbolism, candles crown a wreath with meaning. Amen! Assuredly, the flame represents Christ as the Light of the World. As the season progresses, congregations and families become more hopeful and expectant as more candles are lit to indicate that the Light of the World is ever closer.
6. THE COLORS
Typically, an Advent wreath bears four tapered candles: three purple and one pink. A Christ candle might also be included (more later on that). The three purple candles represent prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifice and are meant to remind us of the character our hearts should reflect during the season: One is pink and represents rejoicing. Some denominations call for blue candles, the peaceful color of the pre-dawn sky just before dawn. Advent is that time we wait for the approaching light - Our Lord.
The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudate" means rejoice, and we do so because we realize that we are more than halfway through our Advent journey.
7. THE PREPARATION
To be prepared, Select a wreath and purchase a purple and pink candle set well ahead of time. Remember that Advent lasts about four weeks and the first Sunday of Advent is a floating date, so aim for having all your ducks (or, should we say candles) in a row well ahead of the crowd.
8. THE RITUAL
Traditionally, the Advent wreath is blessed at the beginning of the season. Here is one blessing:
Leader: The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.
All: Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
Leader: Today we begin to prepare, through prayer and works of charity, for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. Let us ask God’s blessing upon this wreath that we will use to mark the days until the Lord’s coming.
(Pause for silent reflection.)
Leader: Let us pray. Father of all creation and Lord of light, bless our wreath of evergreens and candles. Be present among us as we come together to celebrate in Scripture and prayer the coming of Christ. May our hearts and minds reflect the lights of these candles, that Christmas will find us joyfully ready to receive the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Some traditions set the blessing of the Advent wreath on the Saturday evening before the first Sunday of Advent. After Vatican II, an Advent wreath blessing was added to ‘The Book of Household Blessings’.
9. THE ROUTINE
Throughout the Advent season, the wreath is kept on display. Usually the candles are lit in the evening and prayers are offered up. The candles then remain lit during the evening meal.
- First Week of Advent - Bless the wreath, light one purple candle and offer up prayer.
- Second Week of Advent - Light two purple candles and offer up prayer.
- Third Week of Advent - Light two purple candles, one pink candle, and offer up prayer.
- Fourth Week of Advent - Light all the candles and offer up prayer.
The prayers change each week as the season progresses; because there is such a wealth of ideas and variations on using the Advent wreath, this season is easily tailored to any family.
The themes for each week are Hope, Love, Joy and Promise.
10. THE GLORY
The four weeks have passed. It is Christmas Eve and Christ's presence is imminent. All of the candles burn as our reminder that there is One Great Light who will make himself known.
On Christmas Eve or Christmas day, many people include a Christ candle on their wreath. The Christ Candle is white and would reside at the centre of the Advent wreath. Many families like to decorate the Christ candle on Christmas Eve in anticipatory celebration of His coming.
After the season, when everything else has been wrapped up for next year, the Christ Candle should continue to be utilised. Bring it out for special moments, for we know that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is. Light this candle in remembrance throughout the year.
In medieval times Christ was customarily represented by a burning candle in the centre of a laurel wreath and kept burning throughout the Holy Night and each night thereafter during the holy season. The tradition has been carried on over time and in many forms around the world.
We pray that your Advent season is filled with hope and blessed by His love!