The Advent Wreath in Christ Church Cathedral, Photograph Patrick Comerford 2010
Tomorrow, Sunday 30 November 2014 marks the First Sunday of Advent in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican calendars. Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30 (the Feast of St Andrew the Apostle) and ends on Christmas Eve, 24 December. If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The word 'advent' is Latin for 'a coming or arrival' so Christians look on Advent as a season of preparation. It is a time to get ready for the birth of Jesus Christ. Practicing Christians do special things to mark the holy purposes of the Advent season and many churches have weekly services with a lot of praise, joy and song.During the Advent season many families start making their own creche or manger scene. It has been said that St Francis of Assisi popularized the creche.
The Advent wreath is part of the long-standing tradition but the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.
The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also 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 pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection ( Thanks to Fr William Saunders - The History of the Advent Wreath - Arlington Catholic Herald).
The four candles that decorate the wreath represent the four weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken during this season and the rose candle is lit on the third Sunday marking the the midpoint of Advent. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world.
The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some modern day adaptions include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is to replace the three purple and one rose candles with four white candles which will be lit throughout Christmas season.
Since Advent is a time to stir-up our faith in the Lord, the wreath and its prayers provide Christians with a way to augment the special preparation for Christmas. The tradition helps us to remain vigilant in our homes and not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.
For those of you celebrating this wonderful time of 'waiting' I wish you a joyful Advent season.