For us today, Advent is a time to explore the spiritual ideas of waiting, patience and delayed gratification. We are counting the days until Christmas and allowing ourselves to hope for all of the best to come.
The concept of the Advent wreath actually originated in pre-Christian times when people would gather evergreens and light candles to ward off the darkness of winter and serve as a sign of hope that spring would come.
The word advent, from Latin, means “the coming.” It is a time of spiritual reflection as well as cheer and anticipation. The home or family Advent devotion includes the ceremonial lighting of candles in the Advent wreath.
By the 16th century, Catholics in Germany began using the wreath as a sign of Christ’s coming. From there the tradition slowly spread throughout the world as Germans immigrated to various countries.
Symbolism of the Wreath
The circular wreath represents the fact that God has no beginning and no end. The evergreen branches stand for everlasting life.
Four candles—representing Christ as the light of the world—adorn the wreath. Traditionally, three of the candles are purple, a sign of penance. (Sometimes the three candles are blue or red.) These candles are lit on the first, second and fourth weeks of Advent.
|1st week of Advent|
On the third week a rose (pink) candle is lit. This week is known as “Gaudete” Sunday, Latin for “rejoice.” The rose candle symbolizes joy. (Make sure to check out the priest’s vestments at Mass on this Sunday. They might be rose to match the rose candle that you will be lighting.)
In addition to these four candles, many people place a white candle in the center of their Advent wreath. This candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Day to represent the birth of Christ.
The candles should be lit each day of the appropriate week and for the subsequent weeks. For example, during the third week you will light two purple candles and the rose one.
Building Your Advent Rituals
Personalize your wreath. Ask family members to attach something small to the wreath that represents them, something they are thankful for or praying for.
After you have either made or bought your Advent wreath, bless it. You can make up your own blessings or say the following:
Most precious God, please be with us through this Advent season. Help this Advent Wreath to bring us closer to you and to your son.
We will light and gather around our Advent Wreath each night with anticipation of the coming of the light of the world. With each lit candle we will remember that we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of this child who had so much to teach us of living in your ways and sharing your love.
Help our Advent Wreath to keep us ever mindful of the importance of hope, faith and patience as we wait and prepare, doing your good works, day by day.
The whole purpose of Advent is for us to slow down and take time to reflect on the upcoming birth of Christ. What better way to do that than to go for a walk all together? While you’re out walking, gather up things such as pinecones or other interesting natural elements and use them to adorn your family’s Advent wreath.
You can also collect various items from around the house, such as leftover ribbon, to add to the wreath.
You can turn off all of the lights in the house and enjoy the light of the advent wreath candles all on their own.
We keep the candles lit each evening as we read Scripture and sing a verse of an Advent hymn. Some families at this time read the Scripture lessons for the Mass on that day.
On Christmas Eve, we light additional candles throughout the house and keep them burning all evening until bedtime.
We follow the customary ritual: We pray a blessing on the wreath the first time we light it.
On the first Sunday in Advent, and every evening of the following week, we light a single purple candle. The children take turns lighting the candle, though it is an old German custom that anyone with the name “John” or “Joan” can claim the first rights for this job. The reason? It was Saint John the evangelist who began his Gospel by calling Jesus the “light of the world,” and it was Saint John the Baptist who saw the light of Christ’s divinity shining as He came to be baptized in the Jordan River (see John 1:1-36).
The family or home advent devotion time can be flexible to your family’s personal taste. Adding bible verses, carols, discussions questions or whatever your family chooses.