The Advent wreath is one of my favorite ritual elements of this season. Not only do I love the lighting of the candles at church, but I have a wreath at home; we light the candles and read a devotion every Sunday. Technically, the candles do not carry any specific theme. They are a weekly countdown to Christmas in the same way that an Advent calendar is a daily countdown. However, several candle traditions have arisen over the years.
While the word "wreath" evokes an image of greenery, the Advent wreath is a ringed set of four candles. With the lighting of additional candles each Sunday, the light of Christ becomes brighter as we move closer to Christmas Day. On Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve evening), a white Christ candle is placed and lighted in the center of the wreath signifying the light of Christ shining in the world.
Traditionally, the candles in the Advent wreath are purple or blue, with purple symbolic of the royalty of Christ and the penitential nature of the season, and blue is symbolic of the hope of the season. A few churches light only white candles for the season. Often times a rose colored candle is lighted on the third Sunday marking the movement past the half-way point along the Advent journey. This is known as the Gaudette candle, which is Latin for "rejoice."
Even though the candles don't necessarily carry any individual significance, sometimes the candles move people along the Advent story by being known as the Prophet's candle, the Bethlehem candle, the Shepherds' candle, and the Angels' candle. They can also be understood thematically as Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It's just fine to come up with your own understanding of the weeks and how the candles in your wreath relate to them.
At our church we are using thematic readings about Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace to fit in with our Advent theme of "Peaceable Kingdom."
Just as Advent calendars are fun for adults and kids alike, Advent wreaths are also a meaningful way for people of all ages to mark the pathway toward Christmas. If you don't have an Advent wreath in your home, they are easily purchased and they are quite affordable. You can buy them through any major religious supplier.
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- About Advent Wreaths
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