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Irish Advent wreath- A hint of Green

Advent, from the Latin word for ‘coming’, is the four weeks before Christmas. It was started in Germany by Lutherans in the 1600’s, continuing a traditional practice that goes back centuries, of bringing evergreen branches inside the house and lighting candles near them. Today, it is a formal part of the Catholic Church and begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Irish advent wreaths are very distinctive circles of ancient Celtic design with four or five candle holders. One candle is lit each Sunday until Christmas Eve when, in some wreath traditions, a white candle is lit representing Jesus’ birth. There are three purple candles, representing repentance, and one pink. The pink one is lit on the third Sunday representing joy as a reminder of the olden days when advent was a fasting time and the third Sunday was a break in the fast. This practice is to mark the time waiting for Jesus to come and remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.


The wreath shape represents eternity and in Irish advent wreaths the Irish knot design circles endlessly around the wreath. The Celtic cross is also used for advent wreaths where the circle of the cross is the wreath and the arms are where the candle holders are placed. Many are made from strong resin with candle holders of metal and rubber or felt on the bottom so your furniture doesn’t get scratched. True Celtic advent wreaths are made of pewter.


Some Irish advent wreaths use three dark and one light green candle in place of the purple and pink candles. It makes the wreath unique in the Irish tradition. Celtic advent lasts for 40 days instead of the 30 days introduced in the middle ages, but the number of candles is the same. The Celtic advent actually begins before Thanksgiving and resembles Lent, including the fasting, before Easter.


The designs of Irish advent wreaths have an Irish braid around the base of the wreath. The candle holders are usually decorated with a Celtic knot. It has been a pattern in art since the third or fourth century and is an interlaced pattern sometimes in spirals. These designs are seen in manuscripts of the early Christian era, possibly coming from Northern Italy. The Irish have used it regularly since Christianity first came to the island, in the 6th century and it is associated with Ireland today.


There are resin Irish advent wreaths made to look like pewter or stone. They are less expensive and still have the ancient Celtic atmosphere. There is also, less traditional, stained glass shamrocks in silver frames connected in a ring with the four candle holders. There are also gilded metal, shamrock wreaths with five candle holders. Waiting for Christmas is difficult for children and adding the advent wreath to the days before Christmas give them a moment to think and discuss the true meaning of the season. Like the scenes behind the windows of an advent calendar, lighting the wreath gives an opportunity for something deeper.


This article was published on Saturday 09 January, 2010.

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