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History and Symbolism of the Advent Wreath ^ | December 4th, 2008 | Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Posted on 12/04/2008 10:07:12 PM PST by Salvation

History and Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

December 4th, 2008 by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

The lights of the candles on the Advent Wreath break through the darkness, reminding us of the Light of Christ that we anticipate during this holy season. Where did this tradition come from, of lighting four candles in an evergreen wreath to mark the weeks preceding Christmas? Like many of our Church traditions, the use of candles in the midst of late fall and winter was originally a pagan tradition. Rev. William Saunders, who wrote an article in the “Arlington Catholic Herald” on this topic, states that “pre-Germanic peoples used wreaths with lit candles during the dark and cold December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended sunlight days of spring.” In a similar vein, Scandinavians “lighted candles [that] 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.”

In the middle ages, the Germanic peoples began incorporating a lighted wreath into the Christian season of Advent. It didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1800s and it wasn’t until the 1900s that German immigrants brought the tradition to America.

The Advent Wreath is very symbolic. The evergreens used for the wreath itself are a reminder of continuous life. The shaping of them into a circle reinforces that meaning. The circle is also a sign of everlasting life as well as the eternity of God.

The four candles used, three purple and one pink, mark the Sundays of Advent before Christmas. The purple candles are reminders that this should be a time of prayer and sacrifice to prepare us for the second coming of Christ. On the third Sunday, the pink candle is lit to announce Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday of rejoicing for Christ is coming near. With the lighting of that candle, the light has won out over the darkness (three candles lit vs. the one that remains unlit).

Various meanings have been assigned to the four candles. One interpretation has each candle representing 4000 years, the Biblical time between Adam and Eve and the coming of Christ. In another interpretation, the first candle represents the patriarchs, the second the prophets, the third reminds us of John the Baptist, and the fourth of Mary, the mother of Jesus. They have also been described as the prophets’ candle, the Bethlehem Candle, the shepherds’ candle, and the angels’ candle.

A fifth white candle in the center representing Christ can also be used. It is lit on Christmas Eve as a remembrance of Christ coming into the world. Sometimes, all the other candles of the wreath are removed and replaced with white candles on Christmas.

The Advent Wreath serves as a powerful visual reminder of the holiness of the season. The light of the candles invite us to quiet ourselves during this busy time and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Whether at home or at Church, it provides an invitation to wait and pray in hopeful anticipation for the coming of Christ. We are called to welcome the light of Christ into our lives.


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a Master of Arts degree in Applied Theology from Elms College, and is editor of She is also the author of Letters to Mary from a Young Mother (2004).

(This article is adapted from a weekly column Patrice writes for, and is used by permission.)

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: advent; catholic; catholiclist; christmas08
Some different interpretations of what the candles represent here.
1 posted on 12/04/2008 10:07:13 PM PST by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; Lady In Blue; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; Catholicguy; RobbyS; markomalley; ...
Advent Reflections for 2008

History and Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

Rediscovering Advent in the (St.) Nick of Time
Catholic Traditions for Advent and Christmas
Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way, "The Blessed Mother and Advent", Part 1 of 4
The Perfect Faith of the Blessed Virgin "The Blessed Mother and Advent", Part 2 of 4
Theotokos sums up all that Mary is: "The Blessed Mother and Advent", Part 3 of 4

Reclaiming the Mystery of Advent, Part One: The Meaning of Advent
Renewing the Mystery of Advent, Part Two: The Witness of John the Baptist
Why “Gaudete?”, Part Three (Third Sunday of Advent)
Sunday before Nativity
Holy Mary and the Death of Sin - "The Blessed Mother and Advent", Part 4 of 4

Catholic Liturgy - Rose-Colored Vestments on Gaudete Sunday
Advent through Christmas -- 2007
Immaculate Conception Novena -- starts November 30th [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Advent 2007 -- Day by Day
Making Advent a Reality (the seasons are out of whack)

The Advent Workshop -- lots of information and activities
Jesse Trees (genealogy of Jesus activity for families)
Advent Wreath & Candles (Prayers for the Family)
Advent Overview
Reclaiming the Mystery of Advent, Part One: The Meaning of Advent

Celebrating Christ’s Advent [Archbishop Raymond Burke]
Praying through Advent -- 2006
The Paradox of Advent
Experience the Joy of Advent
Advent: the Reason for the Season

The Advent Wreath
Advent Activity - The Jesse Tree
That incredible shrinking Advent-Christmas season (Christmas should start, not end, Dec. 25)
Advent Thoughts: Some of the Church Fathers on the Divinity of Christ
The Relationship Between Advent and the Change in the Seasons (Dom Guéranger)

2 posted on 12/04/2008 10:11:25 PM PST by Salvation ( †With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation
Hello, friends.

We like to make the Advet wreath part of every meal. We found a great solution to having the advent wreath take up so much space at our kitchen table. With this in mind, we bought an inexpensive (and one that blends with all styles) chandelier that is electric, but also has 5 spots for normal taper candles. We buy a wreath and then make one cut so we can slip it around the chain that hangs the light from the ceiling. Voila! An advent wreath. We put a white candle in the 5th spot. Then we are easily able to light the candles each night and sing "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" instead of saying grace.

Another idea we used for many years was to put the wreath at the center of the table and place Joseph & Mary figurines with an empty crib in the center of the wreath. It helped the kids put it all together.

3 posted on 12/05/2008 3:08:17 AM PST by Notwithstanding
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To: Salvation
A Church Advent wreath made from a 19th Century buggy wheel:

4 posted on 12/05/2008 6:26:57 AM PST by lightman (BHO: I'd rather defy than deify.)
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To: Salvation


5 posted on 12/05/2008 7:00:42 AM PST by Jaded
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To: Notwithstanding
Great idea! Thanks for posting it.
6 posted on 12/05/2008 10:11:14 PM PST by Ciexyz
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To: Notwithstanding

I like the chandelier idea!

7 posted on 12/05/2008 10:15:52 PM PST by Salvation ( †With God all things are possible.†)
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To: lightman

We had a huge wreath that was raised and lowered each week to light the candles. Quite heavy on a pully mechanism. The disadvantage was that for Daily Mass we would always have to let it down, light the cnadle and hoist it back up. A lot of pullying to do for some of us ladies.

This year, our pastor put a stationary one located in the sanctuary to the side of the altar. Much easier — and much smaller with smaller candles.

8 posted on 12/05/2008 10:18:31 PM PST by Salvation ( †With God all things are possible.†)
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