We didn’t have advent wreaths growing up (except the construction paper one I made in 3rd grade). So establishing the tradition in my home now seems a bit intimidating.
With that in mind, we’ve done the research for you and hopefully will help you on your way to starting your own family tradition (with the potential for a bonus family dinner).
The Meaning of the Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is one of the Catholic symbols for Advent. It not only serves as a reminder of the meaning of the season, but it is also a call to prepare for Christ’s coming through prayer.
This wonderful tradition has its origins in pre-Christian times. “There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreaths 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,” writes Rev. William Saunders. “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.”
It was in the 16th century when German Catholics began to use it as a sign of Christ’s coming. The tradition spread, albeit slowly, as the Germans immigrated to various countries.
The wreath, which is made of evergreens, is a circle — signifying that God has no beginning and no end; thus, everlasting life. It is also a sign of hope.
The light from the candles’ flames symbolizes Christ as the Light of the World — that no matter what darkness exists in the world, His light prevails.
The four candles — three are purple and one is pink — represent the four Sundays of Advent. On the first Sunday, only one purple candle is lit. On the second Sunday, two purple candles are lit. On the third Sunday, two purple candles and the pink candle are lit. And on the fourth Sunday, all candles are lit. Purple is the color for penance, while pink is the color for joy — since the third Sunday of Advent is also Gaudete Sunday (“rejoice” in Latin).
Additionally, a white candle is sometimes placed in the middle of the wreath. It symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve to recall the Savior’s birth.
Starting your own Tradition
Rev. William Saunders suggests: “In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent Wreath proceeds.”
The wreath, if not used before, can be blessed by you or someone else in your house with the following, and sprinkle with Holy Water:
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
Leader: O God, by whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Your blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from You abundant graces. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Each evening following, begin by praying over your food, praying the advent prayer, and then light the appropriate number of candles. (The candles stay lit until the meal is over).
Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, That by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.
Leader: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Through Christ our Lord.
Leader: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Through Christ our Lord.
Leader: O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy Grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Through Christ our Lord.
So gather the family together and make the Advent Wreath part of your Christmas preparations. It will help you quiet your heart, regain peace amid all the festivities, and focus on the real meaning of the season.
For Advent Prayers: