All About the Advent Wreath

The history of the Advent Wreath is a bit clouded, but its popularity throughout Christendom today goes back to more recent times.

The Wreath itself can be traced back to pre-Christian Germanic tribes, who sought to break the bleakness of winter by lighting candles and invoking the sun god to return with the warmth and brightness of spring. In a symbolic fashion, they created a wreath of evergreen, in which they placed candles. The evergreen would remind them of life, and the round wreath would remind them of the circle of time, and that spring would indeed return.

In Scandinavia, there was a similar custom, with candles placed around a wheel and prayers offered to the god of light to turn the wheel of light toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

This tradition of a circle with lighted candles was gradually adopted and adapted by Christians, so that by the Middle Ages, wreaths of evergreen and candles were being used as a spiritual preparation for Christmas.

But, it was not unto after the reformation that the custom caught on, and became quite popular in Germany.

Closely associated with Lutheranism, the custom involved placing four candles in a wreath of evergreen, and, as each candle was lit, Scripture was read, along with prayer, in a family devotion, especially using the custom to instruct children on the Coming of Christ.

Over time, as other denominations adopted the custom, particular Biblical meaning was placed on each candle, specifically pointing to Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, as we find in John 3: 17-21.

Today, we place five candles on the Advent Wreath: three purple, one rose (or pink), and one white.

In typical Anglican tradition, one candle is lit each Sunday of Advent, until all four candles are burning on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Then, on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, the fifth candle (the white one) is lit.

Symbolically, the first purple candle lit represents Hope; the second, Love; the third candle, pink, signifies Joy; the fourth, purple, is for Peace; and, finally, the fifth, white candle stands for Christmas, the birth of our Saviour Who is the Light of the World.

The pink for the Third Sunday in Advent has its origin in a papal tradition around the fifth century,with the pope blessing roses to be sent to Catholic sovereigns on the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The effect was to break the solemnity of Lent, and this custom was passed over to Advent, where rose becomes the color of the Third Sunday, called Gaudete Sunday, taking its name from the Latin word Gaudete, meaning "Rejoice", the first word of the introit of this day's Mass, thus breaking the solemnity of Advent, and its solemn preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, and the expectation of the Second Coming.