The Advent wreath is a popular Advent custom that originated in Germany. It consists of four candles (three purple and one rose), surrounded by evergreen branches. One purple candle is lit the first week, two the second, two purple and one rose the third, and finally all four in the last week of Advent. The light of the candles signifies the light of Christ, Who will come into the world at Christmas.
The History of the Advent Wreath:
While the Advent wreath is a feature in many Catholic homes and even Catholic churches during the season of Advent, it actually originated among the Lutherans of Eastern Germany in the 16th century. It was quickly adopted by both Protestants and Catholics throughout Germany, and it was brought to the United States by German immigrants in the 19th century.
The Advent wreath has deeper origins as well, extending back to pre-Christian customs of burning lights during the darkest months of winter. Medieval Christians retained the custom while seeing such lights as a symbol of Christ.
Making Your Own Advent Wreath:
It's very easy to incorporate the Advent wreath into your preparations for Christmas. You will need four candles—traditionally, three purple and one rose, though you can substitute white. Then, you will need some evergreen boughs (yews, mountain laurels, and holly work well) to arrange around them. They don't even have to be in a circle; you can place them in a straight line—say, on the mantel over the fireplace. (For detailed and illustrated instructions, see How to Make an Advent Wreath.)
Blessing Your Advent Wreath:
Once you have your wreath set up, the next step is to bless it. That's usually done on the First Sunday of Advent, or the evening before; but if you didn't do it then, don't worry—you can do it any time during Advent. You can find instructions for blessing the wreath in How to Bless an Advent Wreath.
To make the occasion even more special, why not invite your parish priest to dinner and ask him to bless the wreath and candles? If he is too busy around Advent, you could have him do it in the weeks before.
Making the Advent Wreath a Daily Custom:
The Advent wreath helps us keep our thoughts focused on the coming of Christ at Christmas, so we should integrate it into our daily activities. The easiest way is to make it a part of our evening meal. The family gathers around the wreath and lights the appropriate candles. The father (or other leader) prays the Advent wreath prayer for that week, and the candles are left burning during the meal. (For detailed instructions, see How to Light the Advent Wreath.)
Using the Advent Wreath During the Christmas Season:
Advent ends, of course, with Christmas Eve, but that's no reason to put the Advent wreath away. Many people add a large white candle to the center of the wreath and light it, along with the other four, starting on Christmas and going all the way through Epiphany. It's a good way to remind ourselves that Christ is the reason for the preparations we made during Advent, and it also helps us remember that Christmas doesn't end on Christmas morning, after all the presents have been opened.