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Here are many stirring symbols of faith displayed during the Christmas season - of the most celebrated among them is the beautiful traditional Advent wreath. The Advent wreath represents beauty and hope to many spiritual people around the world, and the wreaths themselves are teeming with symbolism. It is believed that this customary Christian decoration was started in Germany, but it is quite likely to pre-date the Romans.

A typically fashioned wreath would be placed horizontally and would then be formed of interwoven evergreen branches; placed within this arrangement would be four or five candles. The fifth candle is considered optional in most arrangements and when used is meant to represent Christmas Day, while the other four candles represent the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The evergreen branches that make the wreath symbolize enduring and eternal life, while the candles are lit to signify Christ as being the light of the world. Each candle is then lit in succession for each week leading up to Christmas, with the fifth candle on the wreath being lit on Christmas Day. Traditionally, the Advent candles themselves are purple, which was considered to be the color of royalty. Families often gather to hold their own Advent celebrations, with each candle being lit weekly leading up to Advent. An important point to remember is the snuffing out of the candles at the end of each observance - not because it has religious or seasonal significance, but simply because it is a prudent safety precaution.

There are other forms of Advent wreaths and each has its own charm, style, and significance. The Celtic Advent wreath is often made of stone or bronze, and features the aforementioned four- or five-candle array, with intricately stylized Celtic knot patterns etched into the surface of the wreath. Often, the wreath itself surrounds a Celtic cross, where the fifth Christmas candle might be displayed. Another variation on the Celtic Advent wreath is the Claddagh symbol, which replaces the wreath. The Claddagh symbol is often given as a gift in the form of a ring, which some choose to wear as a wedding ring. Its design is stirring and symbolic - a crowned heart being held by two hands. The heart symbolizes love, while the crown represents loyalty and the two hands are clasped to represent friendship.

Another variation of the Advent wreath is represented by the Jesse Tree Advent wreath. This wreath is also typically of a metal construction with the usual four or five candles, and is intended to symbolize the family tree of Jesus Himself. An increasingly popular variation features three purple candles and a fourth candle in pink. The optional fifth candle might be white to symbolize the purity of the Christ child.

This article was published on Friday 10 April, 2009.

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