The word “advent” means “coming” and the month of December is the season of advent where we wait expectantly for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is a time to get our hearts ready for the celebration of Christ’s birth. A way to symbolize this time is to set out an advent wreath and candles. The candles are typically placed on the wreath and each of the candles has its own meaning that is meant to focus on the different aspects of getting ready for Christmas.
If you’ve never used an Advent wreath and candles before, we’ll explain the meaning and how it all got started. The wreath itself is a symbol, and each of the candles has its own distinct meaning for each of the four weeks prior to Christmas. Although traditions vary, the basic premise of the Advent wreath and candles is the same.
Read further as we go over the Advent wreath and candles meaning in further detail. We’ll start with how the tradition began.
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Advent Wreath and Candles Meaning
Advent wreaths and candles are more than just pretty Christmas decorations. The arrangement of an evergreen wreath with four candles (five, if you choose to feature one for Christmas Day itself) has special meaning and is used to put our focus on the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ birth.
An Advent wreath is circular and symbolizes everlasting life and unending love. The arrangement is used to put our attention on the meaning of Christmas. The candles, in particular, put our focus on hope, faith, joy and peace. A new candle is lit each of the four Sundays before Christmas.
When Does Advent Begin in 2022?
In 2022, Advent starts on Sunday, Nov. 27, and is celebrated each Sunday leading up to Christmas.
When Did the First Advent Season Start?
The first Advent took place in either the 4th or 5th century. It was a time of prayer and fasting for new Christians. Advent gradually developed into a season that lasts four weeks leading up to Christmas.
The tradition as we know it today became popular back in 1839, when the first Advent wreath appeared.
What is the History of the Advent Wreath?
The first Advent wreath was made in Germany in 1839. It wasn’t exactly as we see it today though. That first wreath was created by a Lutheran minister, named Johann Hinrich Wichern, who made it out of a wheel from a cart. He placed twenty small red candles and four large candles inside the wheel. The red candles were lit on weekdays and the white ones were lit each Sunday. It was a way for children to count down the days until Christmas.
At some point, an evergreen wreath was used instead of the wheel, and the tradition was born. The circular wreath made up of evergreens symbolizes everlasting life. When other decorations are added to a wreath, they typically have a meaning as well.
Holly berries, being red, symbolize Jesus dying on the cross and shedding his blood for our sins. Even pine cones added to a wreath have significance and symbolize the new life we are given through resurrection.
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Why Are Advent Candles Purple, Pink and White?
The most common tradition for Advent candles uses the colors purple, pink and white. However, some traditions use all red or all white and sometimes blue is substituted for purple. We’ll go over the meaning of each color and why the color is used.
Typically, three of the four Advent candles are purple—the first, second and fourth candles. The first candle, or ‘Prophet’s Candle,’ symbolizes hope and the color means royalty, repentance and fasting. It puts the focus on self-denial by abstaining from food or other pleasures to reflect on Christ’s coming. It’s a way to get in the right frame of mind in anticipation of the arrival of Jesus.
The second purple candle, which is also called the ‘Bethlehems Candle,’ symbolizes faith. Micah foretold that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem so this candle puts the focus on preparation for the King and the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
The fourth candle means peace and is also called the ‘Angel’s Candle,’ because the angels announced that Jesus was coming to bring peace. Purple is used to symbolize the love that comes through Christ.
This third Advent candle represents the joy that the shepherds felt when they found out about the coming of the Messiah. It is also known as the ‘Shepherd’s Candle’.
The fifth candle is optional and, when used, is typically put in the center of the wreath. White stands for light and purity and is known as ‘Christ’s Candle’. This white candle is lit on Christmas Day.
What Other Colors Are Used for Advent Candles?
Although not as common, there are other candle colors used during Advent as well. Each one has its own meaning to prepare for Christmas.
Red Advent colors have German roots and the color symbolizes communion and is used to promote religious unity. The color red has always been a prominent Christmas color.
Blue Advent candles have the same meaning as traditional purple candles. This color is sometimes used in place of purple to differentiate between Advent and Lent.
Green represents faith and is sometimes used with an Advent wreath.
Another popular Christmas color is gold, which symbolizes love and kingship.
Related: What Are the Christmas Colors? Why Red and Green Became the Shades of the Holiday Season
How the Advent Wreath Varies by Religion
The common theme of Advent, for most Christian religions, is that it is a time of preparation to celebrate the coming of Christ. However, each Christian denomination that uses an Advent wreath and candles may do it in a little different way. That being said, each candle will represent one aspect of Advent and is lit to symbolize Jesus bringing light into the world.
Here is how the Advent wreath is used by the major religions.
Catholic churches use the traditional colors of purple, pink and white. They use the purple color to signify penance and it’s also the color worn by the priest. The pink candle is used to represent rejoicing.
Greek Orthodox Churches
Orthodox Christians observe Advent for a longer period of time. Instead of one month, it is 40 days. They use six different candles—green, blue, gold, white, purple and red.
Lutheran churches in the U.S. will typically either follow the same tradition of Catholic churches with the traditional candle colors, or they will use four blue candles instead. The blue candles represent hope and expectation.
Protestant churches tend to use blue candles as well, or all white.
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