What is the Advent Wreath?
The Advent wreath originated several hundred years ago among the Lutherans in Germany, and was probably suggested by the many light symbols which were used in folklore during November and December. At that time of the year, pagan, pre-Christian cultures fearing the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), celebrated the month of Yule (December) by placing lighted candles in a wheel, praying the god of light to turn the wheel of the earth toward the sun and lengthen the days.
The Christians in medieval times kept and Christianized many of these light and fire symbols:
The evergreens (originally simply placed near the hearth) symbolized the everlasting life found in Christ.
Bending the branches to form a circle further symbolized life without end.
The candles signified God’s Son as the light of the world.
Gradually, the Advent wreath became a traditional symbol reminding the faithful of the Old Testament, when humanity was “sitting in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 2:79); when the prophets illuminated by God, announced the coming of the Redeemer; and when the hearts of humans glowed with the desire for the Messiah. The wreath itself came to symbolize the fulfillment of time – the coming Christ and the glory of His birth.
There are four candles for the four weeks of Advent. Traditionally, a specific meaning has been attached to each candle.
Prophesy Candle: The first candle is the Prophecy Candle. We are reminded of the prophets who prepared for the coming of the Messiah. This candle reminds us that we have the same call to help get others ready to welcome Jesus.
Bethlehem Candle: The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle. It reminds us that the holy family could not find room in the Bethlehem inn, so the Son of God was born in a stable. During this week, we search our hearts to find if we have room for Jesus.
Shepherd’s Candle: The third candle for Advent is pink or rose in colour. This colour marks a break in the penitential season that falls on the Third Sunday in Advent and on the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Traditionally this Candle has been called the Shepherd’s Candle. This candle symbolizes joy as we remember the good news that the angels brought to the shepherds.
Angel’s Candle: The fourth candle in the Advent wreath is traditionally known as the Angel’s Candle. Along with the angels we go and proclaim the good news that a Savior is born.