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An Ancient Tradition
Advent is a part of the Christmas Season. Its focus is on the spiritual preparation for Christmas. While a part of the Christmas Season, Advent does have some traditions of its own along with being a part of the overall Christmas traditions.
One of the traditions of Advent that is again becoming popular in churches and homes is the Advent Wreath. While wreaths are a part of the Christmas tradition, the Advent Wreath is a special one used as part of the Advent Season's spiritual preparation for the coming of Christmas.
The tradition of making a circle of evergreen branches into a wreath is a northern European custom that pre-dates Christianity. However, like other pre-Christian customs and traditions, this custom was also absorbed by the Church and became a part of our Christmas traditions.
During the cold, dark winter months, only the evergreen and holly plants remained green. Following the winter solstice (first day of winter), which is the shortest day of the year in terms of daylight, the days gradually lengthen.
Along with the wreathes of evergreen and holly, torches and later candles were lit in thanksgiving for the promised return of summer.
Symbolism of the Wreath
The lengthening days held the promise of a return of summer and new growth, so ancient peoples would gather evergreen and/or holly branches which still retained the color of life and bind them into circles.
The circles represented the continuity of the year in which spring follows winter, summer follows spring, autumn follows summer and winter again returns following autumn.
When Christianity replaced the pagan religions, the Christian Church wisely kept and retained many of the ancient customs and simply gave these traditions a Christian focus.
Wreaths are a common Christmas decoration and the Advent Wreath is simply a variation of traditional Christmas wreaths.
Candles are a part of the Advent Wreath Tradition
Candles in the Wreath
Advent Wreaths include four candles.
Three of the candles are purple, the Church's color for the Advent Season.
Purple is the penitential color which reminds us to turn our hearts toward the Lord. It is also the color of royalty reminding us of Christ's royal divinity.
The fourth candle is rose colored which is the color of joy.
One candle is lit the first week of Advent, two the second, and so on. The rose candle is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent and rose is the color of the vestments used in the Catholic Church for Mass on that day.
Advent wreaths and candles can usually be purchased either separately or as a package. Replacement candles can be purchased for artificial wreaths as well as for make it yourself wreaths made from live evergreen or holly.
An Advent Wreath for Your Home
Advent wreaths can be purchased from any Christian bookstore or other stores specializing in religious items. They are also becoming more common in the Christmas aisle in regular stores. They are available in both on-line and regular stores.
You can also easily make your own advent wreath.
Simply arrange a wreath of evergreen branches and place the candles in holders spaced an equal distance apart around the wreath
If you are using live evergreen branches be sure to replace them with fresh branches as they dry out and make sure the candles are secured so that the flame does not touch the evergreens.
You can also buy either an artificial green wreath and place the candles in it or construct your own wreath with artificial evergreens. For safety reasons it is a good idea to purchase wreaths or evergreens that are made of fire retardant material and keep the candle flames away from the material as well.
Advent wreaths can be simple or elaborate, ready-made or self-made. The important thing is the family sharing and absorbing the spiritual meaning behind the wreath.
One way to encourage this family sharing is to use the Advent Wreath as a center piece on the dinner table. In this way it not only adds a festive decoration to the table but is also present during the family meal.
However, wherever you decide to place the Advent Wreath, it will not only be decorative but also provide a means of actively celebrating the Christmas Season and stretching out the celebration of Christmas over the whole season rather than cramming into a single day.
© 2006 Chuck Nugent