By: Fred Gwin
The Advent Wreath is very rich in symbolism and meaning. When most people look upon the wreath, they see only the four candles and know that Christmas and Santa Claus are only a few weeks away. But the wreath alerts us that Jesus our Savior is coming. The word “advent” means waiting and watching for the coming of Jesus.
The Advent Wreath is believed to have had its beginnings in Germany dating back to the sixth century. The first wreaths had five candles rather than four. The wreath is round symbolizing that God is eternal and has no beginning and no end. The round nature also makes it easier to display.
The wreath is generally made of an evergreen-like holly. Evergreen because the Lord and His teachings will not pass away but will live forever. The wreath will sometimes contain some thorns to represent the sufferings and tribulations that Jesus endured and that He paid the ultimate sacrifice and died to save us all. The Advent wreath will oftentimes reveal pine cones that have come to represent birth and life or the birth and resurrection of Jesus.
There are four candles displayed on the wreath, three are violet and one is pink. The first violet candle is the “Prophet’s candle” and represents the hope we feel for the coming of Jesus as the prophets foretold. The second violet candle is the “Bethlehem candle” and represents the faith of Mary and Joseph as they make the long journey to Bethlehem. The pink or rose candle represents Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday and on that Sunday the clergy wear a “rose colored” vestment or violet if rose is not available. When viewing the wreath, the pink or rose candle will be placed at the nine o’clock position. The rose candle is called the “Shepherds candle” and represents the joy unfolding as Mary and Joseph anxiously await the birth of Jesus. The candles are lit beginning with the candle at the three o’clock position so that the rose candle is illuminated on the third week. The fourth violet candle is called the “Angels candle” and indicates the love of the Holy Family and that they are under the protection of the angels.
The four candles represent the four thousand years that the Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah. In the early years, the first wreaths had a fifth candle that was called the Christmas candle located in the center of the wreath and was lit on Christmas Day. Other decorations on the wreath include lots of violet and pink ribbon.
Even though Advent is a time of joy, excitement, and anticipation, it is also a time for thought-provoking, preparation, penance, and even fasting. Children may see their parents “giving up” something during Advent or attending church services more than usual during these weeks of preparation.
During this Advent season may we all come to a greater love and intimacy with our Lord who was given to us as a baby, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to lead us all to salvation in His Name.
Why not display an Advent wreath in your home as well. Set it on the kitchen table and light it each night at meals with your children.
Come Lord Jesus Come!