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History of the Advent Wreath

The Advent Wreath is seasonal item that is a circle of evergreen foliage that holds four candles to represent a week of Advent. In the more modern times we are seeing advent wreaths made out of pewter, brass, silver and even gold with thematic items such as the nativity etched to the ring that holds the candles. The four candles are there to represent the coming of Christmas and remind us of the birth of Jesus, who bears the name of light of the world.

The original Advent Wreath started in Germany and can be dated back to Bavaria in the 1700s. The thought was the Germans were using it to help light the long dark winter nights where as Advent takes place during the times when the darkness of night is predominant and leads up to the Winter Solicits which is the day of the year that has the most amount of darkness and daylight is very scarce. Other countries picked up this custom and it spread throughout Western Europe and though immigration made its way to the United States.

The four Candles that are placed in the Advent Wreath mark the four Sundays that make up the Sundays of Advent. There are three purple candles, that match the sanctuary colors of advent, and one rose or pink candle. The readings for each of the Sundays are very well thought out and are geared to the waiting and penitential in nature. The Old Testament readings for the first few weeks focus on our sinfulness and the sinfulness of man so that we recall that as we prepare to welcome the Christ Child into the world.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. It is up to the parish as to whether or not there is an opening prayer that is unique to the first week of advent. The second Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday candle is lit in conjunction with a second purple candle and again there are readings examining waiting and sinfulness. On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink candle is lit along with the first and second candles. The tone of the readings abruptly shifts to that of hope and joy in the upcoming arrival of the Messiah. . Gaudete Sunday is what the third Sunday has become known as. The word Gaudete means rejoices. It is also the first word of the entrance Psalm that is sung as mass begins.  It reminds us to stop being somber and to start rejoicing in the upcoming Arrival of the Savior. The vestments and the sanctuary décor also changes to match the rose color of this particular Sunday. 

Through the ages Advent has mimicked Lent but did change from a season of fasting to a season of simple abstinence. And originally Advent ran from the middle of November though Christmas.  It was shortened in the 9th century. The Advent Season and the Advent wreath in the present day are a simple reminder for our joy in waiting for Jesus and the candles do remind us that Jesus is the light.

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This article was published on Sunday 27 April, 2008.

Up a level: Liturgical Calendar
Related Topics:
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  • Easter Season

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