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Advent Candles Light the Nights

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The advent candles have a great history within the church history. They are in integral part of the advent  wreath and to focus on the season of Advent itself. The use of the Advent candle reaches back to the 8th century. The origins of the advent wreath and in kind the advent wreath are sketchy although many agree that there was the use of a wreath in German and the wheel of candles of the Scandinavian countries that used the advent candle to light the long nights.

Candles were initially used in pagan worship but the Church has taken many pagan rituals. Incense was also used in the pagan tradition but the church embraced these elements when they were working toward converting the early Christians. Other byproducts of pagan ritual are the Christmas tree and Christmas itself which was originally part of the winter solicits celebration. These items seem to greatly enhance the religious and spiritual experience creating an atmosphere for worship.

The advent candles and the advent wreath are ways to mark the special time of the year known as advent. The candles have much significance because they are used to mark the four weeks of advent. Symbolically the diminishment of the candles shows the passing of time though the advent season. Week one by the end of advent is usually very short and needs a replacement advent candle. The candles also provide light, just as Christ is the light of the world. In the 8th century these candles were used to light the long nights of Winter.

Additionally there great symbolic nature of the candle light. By  moving though the period of advent, the light of one candle does give off very small amount of light. Though the second week when the second candle is lit it reveals a little more because the two candles provide more light. As we move to  the third week and the joy the light of the three candles give off we become more away of the warm light of Christ. Just like we are happy over the warm light our candles give off lighting the long winter nights.

Above all the advent candles help light our way though the penitential season of Advent. We use our wreath and the nightly candle lighting service to remind us to pray and to fast so we are fully prepared to receive our Lord at his birth on Christmas, or ready ourselves for the second coming of our Lord. There is a definitely duality in Christmas of looking to the past or waiting for the future.

The advent candles traditionally come in purple which in the church conveys the penitential nature of the season, just the same as Lent does. The third candle is pink which reminds us of our joy.  The third week should remind us that Christmas is almost here.  In more recent times the candles have moved out of the tradition realms. For example the Irish often used an emerald green in place of purple and pale green in place of the rose Candle in their Celtic Advent Wreath. This is fine to do as long as the spirit of the season does not get lost. Advent strengths the family and continues to be handed down though the generations.  

This article was published on Saturday 30 August, 2008.

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