Natalie and I have been discussing, and I do believe wishing for the arrival of, Advent. We’ve been talking a good bit about the coming of the period focused on preparation for the arrival of the baby Jesus. The term Advent comes from the latin, meaning “coming”. Something good is coming! Advent is the liturgical equivalent to the sales at the malls. Everything at church is exciting in the Advent season. All the songs and readings are about the coming joy. I really love this time at mass. One of the big components of the Advent experience is the lighting of the advent wreath. The wreath is a great part of our sacred celebrations of the holidays. I think it’s great that the advent wreath is part of the services at churches AND can be part of your family celebrations at home. But when did we all start lighting up these candles on a wreath to prep for Christmas?
The wreath may trace its origins back to pre-Christian Europe. The circular wreath of evergreens was most likely a symbol of the cycles of the seasons. The wreath might have crept into church practice as Christianity spread through the pagan practices in Europe. The modern origins go back to the 1830s in Germany. A Lutheran pastor created a wreath with 23 candles used to mark the time to Christmas. There were red candles for the weekdays and white for the Sundays. The wreath idea caught on across the continent and soon the wreaths had been modified to include 4 candles for the Sundays of advent and an optional 5th candle for Christmas. By the 1920s the German Roman Catholics started to use the wreaths. The practices spread to North America in the 1930s and today almost all of Western Christianity uses some type of Advent Wreath.
Today’s wreaths are a horizontal wreath of evergreens. This might include laurel, pine, holly, cedar, and/or yew. The evergreens serve as a sign of continual life. The candles might vary in color based on religious or personal practice. Most Protestant churches use 4 red candles and 1 white. Roman Catholics use 3 violet candles and 1 rose candle. The rose candle is for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Halfway!!). The third Sunday is known as Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday. I am counting the days until I get to light my first candle (50 days to go).