The History and Meaning of the Advent
The Advent wreath helps us better understand what the season of Advent is all about.
The History of the Advent Wreath
The history of the Advent wreath is actually short, because we really don't know that much, coming from long ago, without much documentation.
There seems to be an ancient tradition long ago, that people in parts of Europe, especially further north, used lights and evergreens in their homes during the long cold winter months.
Both the lights - such as candles or oil lamps - and the evergreens, were considered symbols of divinity, deity, a higher superior being.
The lights and greenery could have simply been a deterrent to cabin fever, caused by short cold days, and even colder long dark nights. Lights and fragrant smelling evergreens are a practical way to bring cheer into the home.
The History and Meaning of the Evergreens in the Advent Wreath
We do know, from the history of the Christmas tree, that an oak tree was worshiped as a deity in Germany. A Christian missionary named Boniface traveled with at least a dozen friends to share the good news of the Gospel.
Boniface chopped down the tree - and didn't get struck dead as some superstitious people had predicted. He and his followers used the oak tree to build a chapel to worship the true God. Boniface gave to the people the evergreen tree as a symbol that God is eternal and never changes.
An oak tree loses its leaves in winter, an evergreen stays "ever green" through the winter.
Incidentally, I wrote a story about gratitude that involves an oak tree. The title of the inspirational short story is The Seed in the Mud
What is the Advent Wreath?
In more recent times, the Advent wreath has become a Christian symbol used in the four weeks before Christmas, reminding us of the coming of Christ.
The Advent wreath is a circular wreath of evergreens usually laid flat on a table or stand. It has four candles.
What the Advent Wreath Represents
The Meaning of the Candles in the Advent Wreath
- The circular wreath is a symbol of God's eternity, having no beginning and no end.
- The evergreens are also a symbol of God's eternity, that God is always God and does not change, unlike the leaves of other trees in winter in colder climates.
- The 4 candles represent the 4 weeks of Advent (also the 4 Sundays in Advent), which represent the roughly 4000 years of wait in the Old Testament from the Creation and Fall of Man and the promise of a redeemer, all the way until the promised redeemer was born in Bethlehem, which we celebrate as Christmas Day.
- The lighting of 1 candle on the first Sunday, then 2 on the second Sunday, and so on, is a reminder of Christ bringing Light to the world, and the time getting closer and closer.
- 3 of the candles are violet (or blue). Violet / purple is a color of repentance, a reminder of John the Baptist's call to repentance, and a reminder of the darkness of sin before the coming of Christ.
- One candle is rose or pink, and is lit on the 3rd Sunday in Advent. It is a symbol of joy and hope halfway through the Advent season.
- The 4 candles can also be white, with 3 having purple or blue ribbons on them, and one having rose or pink ribbons. This is helpful when you can't find or afford the colored candles.
- Whatever candles are lit on Sunday, can also be lit daily throughout the week.
- When the candles are lit, it is appropriate to recite a prayer and have an Advent reading.
How the Advent Wreath is used into the Christmas Season
The Advent Wreath turns into a wonderful Christmas symbol, that can help save time decorating during the busy holidays.
Here's some tips and ideas how to turn the Advent wreath into an appropriate Christmas decoration. I've seen it done in various churches and homes, and my own family did it several different ways also throughout the years.
- You can change all the candles to white or red. Red candles and green evergreens make a very nice Christmas decoration.
- You can put a larger white or red candle in the middle, representing Christ. In fact, it can be put in the middle of the Advent wreath during Advent, and covered with a blue or white cloth in honor of Jesus inside Mary's womb. Some people call it a Mary candle. Then at Christmas, you can uncover it. Or, it blue or white cloth (or netting) can be tied as a skirt around the candle, and left on for Christmas. If you light the candle, be extra careful of the danger of fire!
- You can put a figure of Baby Jesus in the middle. We used to put a piece of straw in the manger for every sacrifice we each made during Advent, to become a little bit softer bed for the Baby Jesus, who was put in the manger right before or after Christmas Eve Midnight ceremonies at church.
- You could put a small creche (Nativity scene) in the middle, or a statue of the Holy Family, or the figurines of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and maybe a shepherd or a sheep or two, depending if they can fit in the middle!
- Another thing we did. We put small or large pine cones in the wreath, and some bits of plastic holly to turn it into a Christmas wreath. Since it was on our kitchen table, it was the centerpiece of every meal.
N.B. Make sure you are very safe with candles and evergreens, because when evergreens are dry, they are extremely combustible !!! In fact, if they are too dry, it would be wise to renew your wreath with fresh greens. Learn more about holiday decoration and candle burning safety
Advent - Getting Ready for the Christmas Season
is not just a day. Like Advent, it's a whole season! It's actually longer than the Advent season.
How long is the Christmas Season?
The Christmas Season lasts from Christmas Eve - December 24th - until 40 days later. That day is February 2nd, known as the Presentation, when Jesus was presented by his parents, Mary and Joseph, for the first time in God's temple in Jerusalem. It's also known as Candlemas Day, when Jesus the Light of the World, is first seen in the temple.
The 12 Days of Christmas
Many people are familiar with the 12 days of Christmas, from December 25th to January 6th. January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany, aka Feast of the 3 Wise Men, to honor the coming of the Magi from the East to worship the newborn King.
It certainly is a strange world that parties all December, and can't wait to throw out the tree soon after Christmas, because they are so tired of the stress and all.
After all, it certainly is strange to celebrate a birthday before someone is even born!
But for those of us who make a good Advent, Christmas Day is just the beginning of a great celebration. Throughout Advent we've sung Advent songs, now we're ready for Christmas carols throughout the season, welcoming the new baby boy, and congratulating his parents.
Thank your stars!
Go to Advent Reflections and Poems.
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