Advent marks the season just before Christmas when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then, with sweet anticipation and preparation, we sing O Come, O Come, Immanuel. Webster defines Advent first as the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting. And second, as the coming of Christ at the Incarnation.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. –Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
As far as we know, the first mention of Advent came in the 300’s A.D. at the Council of Saragossa, then in the 4th and 5th centuries, it was used as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians (Richie, 2021). But, over the years, Christians began to celebrate Advent during December, usually marking each week in a unique way during the Sunday service or at home.
About the Advent wreath
In 1839, thanks to a Lutheran minister in Germany, the Advent wreath came to be. But it wasn’t a wreath at all. Instead, using what he had available, the minister created a display for mission children. Setting twenty small red candles around the outside ring of a wooden wheel and four larger white candles in the center, saved for Sundays, they marked the days leading up to Jesus’ arrival on Christmas Day.
Over time, the Advent wreath we know today emerged. You can adorn this simple wreath of greens with seasonal embellishments to your liking. You might be surprised to learn the meaning in some of the decorations:
- The shape, a continuous ring, represents God’s ending love.
- The evergreens signify everlasting life through eternity in heaven.
- Seasonal red berries point to Jesus’ sacrificial death and shed blood for our salvation.
- Pinecones, since they hold the seeds of one of the oldest known plants, some say pine cones symbolize redemption (Petersen, 2020), resurrection, and regeneration.
About the Advent candles
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.–John 1:4-5.
We often see Advent candles nestled among the greens forming the wreath. Let’s take a look at the traditional setting:
- Week one is a purple candle representing Hope
- Week two is a purple candle representing Peace.
- Week three is a purple candle representing Joy.
- Week four is a pink candle representing Love.
- Week five, on Christmas Day, we light the white candle in the center of the wreath that represents Jesus.
Breaking with the Advent tradition – almost
The colors or style aren’t as important as our ultimate focus—Jesus.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to experiment with the colors and style of the wreath, as they complement your Christmas or home décor. Elaborate or minimalist, you are not locked in here, so I encourage you to have fun with it! Now, you may not use a wreath at all, but don’t let that keep you from the celebration. It’s okay to be creative.
What’s next in this Advent series
In each of the next four weeks, we’ll explore scripture, special hymns supporting each weekly theme, and maybe even share a recipe or two. So, while we look forward to the birth of Jesus, please consider bringing friends and family along to experience a treasured time of Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love together in this season of Advent.
I hope you spend time together lighting the candles, taking turns reading the scriptures, singing loudly, or baking (and eating) the cookies. Or maybe even do all four!
Petersen, Jonathan. “Video: God’s Redemption Seen in a Pine Cone.” Bible Gateway Blog, August 11, 2020. https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2020/01/video-gods-redemption-seen-in-a-pine-cone/.
Richie, Laura. “The Advent Wreath & Candles – Meaning, Symbolism and History.” Crosswalk.com. Crosswalk.com, November 2, 2021. https://www.crosswalk.com/special-coverage/christmas-and-advent/advent-wreath-candles-understanding-the-meaning-history-tradition.html.