The Advent Wreath – A Verdant Symbol of Waiting

As described in the resources of the library, the Advent wreath, which hangs at the front of the church with its five candles, symbolizes the coming of Christ. In the past few decades, the ancient custom of the Advent wreath has enjoyed an immense recovery throughout the world as a symbol that does for Advent what the manger scene and the Christmas tree do for Christmas.

While the specific origins of the Advent wreath are not known, we do know that it began centuries ago in what is now eastern Germany and was then associated with the Yule tradition of burning lights. By the sixteenth century these lights became Advent symbols in Christian homes. From that tradition, the custom of a different candle to represent each of the four weeks of Advent developed.

Originally, the Advent wreath was a wreath of evergreens placed in a circle containing four candles. Each Sunday a different candle was lighted until all four candles shed their light together. The gradual increase of light symbolized the growing anticipation of the birth of Jesus.

While a ready-made Advent wreath can be purchased at a Christian bookstore (also available in many department stores), you may prefer to make your own. Make a circle as small or as large as you wish from coat hangers or other sturdy wire. Then purchase a bunch of evergreens and attach them to the circle with fine wire. Finally, place the four Advent candles around the outer rim, and the Christ candle in the midst.

Note that the service of each week has a different emphasis. This emphasis is articulated throughout each week through the designated Scripture readings. Each successive candle represents a step toward the realization of Jesus’ birth:

  • First Week—Vigilant waiting for the birth of Christ;
  • Second Week—Personal preparation for the birth of Christ;
  • Third Week—The joy of our waiting;
  • Fourth Week—The Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary;
  • Christmas Day—The Christ candle represents the birth.

Finally, by the colors of the candles you will want to symbolize the twin themes of Advent—preparation and joy. Since preparation is solemn and even penitential, the first, second, and fourth candles should be dark blue or purple. The third candle, which symbolizes the joy of anticipation, is always rose-colored. And the Christ candle is white, the symbol of festivity.

You can place the Advent wreath on a stand, hang it from the ceiling, or place it in another central location. It enhances the Advent worship to have the wreath in a place visible to the entire congregation.

Adapted from
The Services of the Christian Year. Star Song Publishing Group. Used by permission.