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10 Things You May Not Know About The Advent Wreath Tradition

Posted by Arlene Abraham on 9th Nov 2016

The time is nearly upon us when our stores will be decked out in Advent wreaths. With wreaths bearing everything from elaborate manger scenes to simple greenery will grace our shelves, the choices are myriad. How do you use it once you have one? A good place to start is the advent wreath itself. We will share what you need to know to make your wreath and season meaningful and provide some extra tidbits of interesting information along the way.

1. The Word

“Advent” derives from the Latin verb “ven”, which means to come. Beginning on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew, 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. Read on to get all you need to know’.

Tidbit: 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.

Tidbit: Celebration of Advent using a wreath gained popularity in 19th century and was brought to America via German immigrants in the 1900s.3. The Shape

Christ is eternal; He has neither a beginning or an end. We can say the wreath itself reminds us of Christ’s eternal presence with its circular shape.

Tidbit: As far back as the seventh century, wreaths were used in baptismal and wedding ceremonies.

3. The Shape

Christ is eternal; He has neither a beginning or an end. We can say the wreath itself reminds us of Christ’s eternal presence with its circular shape.

Tidbit: 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…Many now include the Holy Family, inscriptions, stars, a depiction of Bethlehem, wise men, all manner of reminders of The Coming Lord in the form of candleholder wreaths.

Tidbit: 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.

Tidbit: Consider that light casts away darkness.

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.

Tidbit: 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. If you have everything ready before Thanksgiving, you can recover from your turkey dinner without that what-is-it-I’m-forgetting? feeling. We stock as many sets of tapers as we can get our hands on, but they will become scarce the last two weeks of November.

Tidbit: Don’t stress about candles that seem wobbly in the candle cups on your wreath. Alleviate that with some handy little doodads called pliable wax candle fitters.

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 Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Family Advent Wreath: Blessings and Prayers

Tidbit: 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. A good resource for ideas is The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook or any of the resources found here.

Tidbit: 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 center 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 utilized. 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

Tidbit: In medieval times Christ was customarily represented by a burning candle in the center 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!

Need help finding the perfect Advent wreath, Advent candles or any other Advent gift ideas? Simply click this link and you will find a plethora of Advent gifts to shop from!