ADVENT & THE ADVENT WREATH
The Advent wreath, also known as the Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent. Advent is perceived as a period of Christian expectation, a light on hope as we celebrate the birth or ‘advent’, of our Lord and saviour. Common ways of commemorating Jesus’ birth are through Advent calendars, wreaths, and candles.
Advent is also a point of reflection on the time that has passed; a time to turn from those negative thoughts and actions and to return to the feet of the Lord. A time to leave the dark behind and to venture into the light of hope and joy. Advent began as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians. The word “Advent” itself means “arrival” or “coming,” and so it reminds us to pause and reflect.
The tradition surrounding the Advent Wreath goes back many years in Catholic tradition, although its actual origin is uncertain. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith, for example Holly has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pinecones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. Red berries, if present on the wreath, have been known to represent the drops of blood shed by our Lord, as He hung on the cross of salvation. Altogether, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, through His own passion, death, and resurrection.
The Advent wreath is a symbol of the season, with a candle lit each of the four Sundays leading up to, and on Christmas Day. The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival. The purple colour symbolizes royalty, repentance, and fasting.
The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David. The second candle is also purple to symbolism preparation for the coming king.
The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In the liturgy, the colour rose signifies joy, hence this candle is coloured pink to represent joyfulness and rejoicing.
The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people closer to God and to each other again. This colour is also purple to represent the culmination of love through the Messiah.
The optional fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. This candle is white to represent pure light and victory.
Advent then, is the pre-cursor to salvation, OUR salvation. Making use of the symbolism of the Advent Wreath is a natural way to satisfy the wonderful but excruciating urge of anticipation.