One of the most recognizable Catholic symbols of the Advent season is the Advent wreath.
The concept of the Advent wreath actually originated in pre-Christian times when people would gather evergreens and light candles to ward off the darkness of winter and serve as a sign of hope that spring would come.
By the 16th century, Catholics in Germany began using the wreath as a sign of Christ’s coming. From there the tradition slowly spread throughout the world as Germans immigrated to various countries.
Symbolism of the Wreath
The circular wreath represents the fact that God has no beginning and no end. The evergreen branches stand for everlasting life.
Four candles—representing Christ as the light of the world—adorn the wreath. Traditionally, three of the candles are purple, a sign of penance. (Sometimes the three candles are blue.) These candles are lit on the first, second and fourth weeks of Advent.
On the third week a rose (pink) candle is lit. This week is known as “Gaudete” Sunday, Latin for “rejoice.” The rose candle symbolizes joy. (Make sure to check out the priest’s vestments at Mass on this Sunday. They might be rose to match the rose candle that you will be lighting.)
In addition to these four candles, many people place a white candle in the center of their Advent wreath. This candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Day to represent the birth of Christ.
The candles should be lit each day of the appropriate week and for the subsequent weeks. For example, during the third week you will light two purple candles and the rose one.
Your Family’s Advent Wreath
I can remember always having an Advent wreath in our home when I was growing up. Now that I have my own family, it’s a tradition that I enjoy continuing. But I must admit that at times it seems stale. Here are some suggestions for making your family’s Advent wreath one to remember:
+ Make your own Advent wreath. Last year, my parish hosted an evening where families came and made their own Advent wreaths for a small fee for materials. If you can’t find an event like this, however, you can always purchase the necessary supplies at most craft stores or at the local garden store. Gather the family together one evening to construct your Advent wreath.
+ Personalize your wreath. Ask family members to attach something small to the wreath that represents them, something they are thankful for or praying for.
+ After you have either made or bought your Advent wreath, bless it.
+ Remember to adapt prayers so that they work for your family. I learned this lesson the hard way. Last year I picked up a book of Advent prayers at church for our family to use. The book provided Scripture readings, meditations and prayers. As an adult I thought it offered a lot. But sometimes less is more.
After the second Sunday when we read about John the Baptist and it mentioned that he ate grasshoppers, that was all we heard about for the rest of dinner—and the following day—from my, Madison. The whole point of the reading was lost on her. In short, we should either have found a more age-appropriate reading or adapted what we had for our situation.