The Advent Wreath
Once again, we have reached the season of Advent, the time when we begin to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin “adventus”, meaning coming. It is a season when we remember the first coming of Jesus at his birth, and look forward to the coming fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. This season runs for the four weeks prior to Christmas, and marks the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar.
For many years, one of the rituals of the Advent season is the lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath. I went looking for some information on this traditional ritual, and found some interesting information. The tradition began fairly late, as church rituals go, first coming around during the 19th century. It was developed beginning in 1839 by a minister named Johann Hinrich Wichern in Germany. The children at his school would ask if Christmas had arrived every day, and to help them with this he came up with an idea. He took an old wagon wheel and put in 24 small red candles as well as four large white candles. The white candles would be lit on Sundays, and one of the red candles would be lit on other days, helping to count down to Christmas. As the tradition evolved, the small red candles gradually were dropped, until we arrived at the four colored candles and one white candle that we use now.
Many apply symbolic interpretations to the elements of the Advent candles and wreath. Some of these we are probably familiar with: each of the candles represents a different part of the message of Jesus. Usually, we think of these as hope, peace, joy, and love, but other possibilities include expectation and purity, along with some others. Interestingly, many of the resources I looked at also talked about the symbolism of the wreath itself: its round shape indicating the unending love of God who sent Jesus to the world.
Lighting the Advent candles is more than just something we do during the Sundays before Christmas. It is a practice rich with meaning, a reminder of the things we should be contemplating as we prepare for Christmas.
In Christ’s Love,