Today, we can buy an Advent wreath in any store, which is a reflection of the growing commercialization of Christmas and December. A wreath we make ourselves is worth much more.
It can be woven from spruce twigs or other evergreen plants that do not lose needles and always stay green. This greenery exemplifies fidelity to God and his word. We can also make a wreath made of laurel twigs, which signify victory over sins, cedar twigs, which are a symbol of power, twigs of thorns (God’s wood), reminiscent of a crown of thorns, which the soldiers wove for Jesus.
We weave a wreath in the shape of a circle, which illustrates eternity and fidelity, as it has neither a beginning nor an end.
4 Candles of Advent names and colors
The most eloquent on the wreath are three purple candles and one pink.
The choice of purple is not accidental: it means the color of repentance and penance. With this color, we express sorrow at Jesus ’suffering and hope in anticipation of his coming, which marks the beginning of salvation. The pink candle represents the joy of the approaching birth of Jesus.
The light of candles reminds us of the light of salvation from the darkness of sins and brings us hope and salvation. During Advent, lighting candles has an additional meaning. We light one more candle every Sunday and so the light of anticipation rises like the morning dawn. In a spiritual sense, this means the closer we are to God, the more light there is in our lives as well.
The meaning of the candles we light on Advent Sundays:
- On the 1st Sunday of Advent, we light the first purple candle, a sign of hope for the coming of the Messiah.
- On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, we light another purple candle representing love. Some also call it the Bethlehem candle. But we light it in memory of the manger in which Mary laid Jesus.
- On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we light a pink candle, which is considered a shepherd’s candle and represents joy.
- On the 4th Sunday of Advent, we light a purple candle again (the third purple candle). We light it on the last Sunday before Christmas, we also call it an angel candle, which is supposed to signify the peace that the angels sang about on Holy Night.
In addition to all this, candles have additional symbolism:
- they represent four milestones (creation, incarnation, salvation, and the end of the world);
- represent the four sides of heaven: north, south, east, and west, which speaks of the universality of the incarnation of Christ for the whole world and all people;
- represent the four seasons, which means that the birth of Christ was important not only for the historical time in which he lived on Earth, but it is important for all times and every age;
- represent human life; (at birth) the lit candle is smaller every moment, which speaks of the fact that we are always closer to the end of life and reminds us of the domestic transience.
Some commentators also link the four candles and the four Advent Sundays to four periods in the history of salvation:
- from creation to Abraham,
- from Abraham to the kings of Judah,
- from the kings of Judah to the Babylonian captivity,
- from the Babylonian captivity to the birth of Christ.
Today, the candles on the Advent wreath are of different colors: red, gold, silver, white … When you make an Advent wreath together with your children this year, use purple to present them with the symbolism that the candles also express with color. It should be made without additional decoration in order to express the described symbolism.
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History of the Advent Wreath
The first Advent wreath as we know it today appeared in 1838 in Hamburg, Germany, in a home for poor children. Evangelical pastor Johanan Wichem gathered the poor children and placed them in an old house that became their home. He wanted to brighten up Advent days and the anticipation of Christmas for his protégés, who had a hard childhood. He made a large wooden perimeter and placed 24 candles on it, 19 small ones for each day and 4 large ones for 4 Advent Sundays.
He gradually lit the candles and the children liked this ritual so much that he decided to repeat it every year. Thirteen years later, this wooden perimeter began to be adorned with evergreen twigs. Soon wreaths were woven only with evergreen twigs. This beautiful custom eventually spread throughout Germany. From there he moved to other European countries, then to America, and at the end of the century, he became domesticated all over the world where Christians live. The Advent wreath has undergone a change: there are only 4 candles on it for 4 Advent Sundays.
Advent Wreath Blessing
Priests bless the Advent wreath on the first Sunday of Advent. Priests turn to people and the created world with a blessing that emphasizes God’s greatness and goodness. The basic form of blessing has two parts that proclaim God’s words and thanksgiving for God’s help. The second part praises God with rites and prayers. Believers ask for God’s help. The center of blessing is prayer.
- Image: By Jonathunder – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12311700