December 18, 2015
Understanding the Advent Wreath
For many families, lighting candles on an Advent wreath is a fun way to count down the four weeks leading up to Christmas. With each passing week, we light a candle in anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
However, the Advent wreath is actually meant for much more than to simply measure the days left until Christmas morning. In fact, every part of the Advent wreath is packed with meaning, right down to the branches we use to create it.
Bearing in mind its rich symbolism and deep spiritual meaning allows us to stay mindful of what it really means to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
The Advent Wreath
Wreaths have long been used for symbolic and decorative purposes, even dating back to ancient times. Their fresh branches convey a message of renewal, reminding us of when the seasons change and plants begin to grow anew. For this reason, wreaths were especially common in very cold places, where people waited patiently for long winters to turn into spring.
- Advent wreaths are made from the branches of evergreen trees, like pine and holly. Branches from evergreens symbolize eternal life, as they stay green throughout even the coldest months of the year.
- Holly leaves are especially symbolic, as they also represents Jesus’ crown of thorns.
- Advent wreaths hold four candles, or sometimes five. The first four candles represent the four weeks in the Advent Season.
- The season of Advent begins four weeks before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. On each of these Sundays leading up to Christmas, we light one of the four candles.
- Three of the candles are purple, and represent our long wait for the arrival of Christ. The color purple also represents prayer and penance, which we keep close to our hearts throughout the season.
- On the third Sunday of Advent (or Gaudete Sunday) we light the pink candle on the wreath, which symbolizes the joy we share in knowing that the wait for Christ is almost over.
- Some Advent wreaths bear a fifth and final candle. This candle is white – representing the purity of Christ – and can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
- Some Advent wreaths are decorated with other pieces of evergreen trees, like seeds and pine cones. These added symbols represent resurrection and life reborn.
- There are many traditional Advent prayers for each of the weeks a candle is lit. While there is not any designated time of day for this tradition, many Catholic families make it part of their evening meals. (Check out these four Advent prayers from Loyola Press… one for each week of the season!)
As Christmas Day quickly approaches, Advent helps us to remember the struggles and joys that have shaped our faith throughout history.