Signs and Symbols – The Advent Wreath
The first Sunday of Advent (December 2, 2007) is fast approaching. The season of penance and hopeful expectation has probably been observed since the fourth century. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before the feast of Christmas, the Sunday closest to November 30, the feast of St. Andrew. Advent wreaths appear to have come from the northern cultures of Europe, whose people used evergreen and holly for various wheels associated with the lengthening of days – the coming of the light – at the winter solstice.
The Advent wreath takes various forms. For Catholics, there are three purple candles and one rose candle. The rose candle is for the third Sunday – Gaudete or Rejoice. Protestants tend to use blue candles. Some wreaths have a white candle in the center to signify the birth of Christ. Advent wreaths were primarily used in homes for many centuries and came to churches only more recently.
A different candle is lighted on each Sunday. In our family, we light each one for the first time on Saturday after sunset, which is the liturgical beginning of Sunday. The first week only one candle burns. The second week, two are burning. By the fourth Sunday, all four are lighted, the first getting very short and the others proportionately taller. The passage of time becomes visible through the height of the candles. During all of the hustle and bustle, it is a reminder for us that the Christmas season begins on December 24th and ends on January 6th or the feast of the Epiphany – The Thee Kings.
You can find prayers and devotions for Advent at many sites. The Episcopal Church at Cornell has a wonderful booklet. St. Louis Catholic parish has a series of Advent prayers and observances at their site. Jeanne Woodward has a great collection of Advent prayer, worship, and study resources at The Text This Week. This is an impressive site, with study and worship materials for several denominations for the entire liturgical year.
For a holiday treat, take time away from food, football, and shopping. Go for a walk and gather materials for the wreath with your spouse and the children. Get a hold of some coat hangers, pliers, and some ingenuity to make the ring for the wreath. You can attach the evergreens and holly ( or other materials) with florist’s wire, plastic bag ties, or other wire. The candles can be placed in simple candle sticks inside the wreath. If you are handy you can even make wire ones.
You can sometimes find or order an Advent wreath frame. However, the key is not to create stress. Arrange some candles – don’t worry about the colors – and some greenery – or small potted plants, light a candle, say a prayer for peace, and hope and yearn for the light.