The Advent Wreath
A Flicker of an idea
The idea of an Advent wreath or Advent crown came originally from German lutherans in the 16th century, however it wasn’t until 3 centuries later that the look of the wreath as we know of now took shape.
The Modern wreath with its 4 candles representing the 4 Sunday’s in advent came about from an idea by a German Protestant Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839.
He was a pioneer in urban mission work amongst the poor, he noted how the children he taught became impatient as they waited for Christmas, so he made a ring of wood (an old cartwheel) with 20 small red candles and four large white candles, and then each morning he would light one small candle and then every Sunday one of the large ones, and as the years have passed, we are now only left with the 4 large candles and now more recently, one in the middle.
As you can imagine The Advent wreath has a lot of symbolism and hidden meanings woven in to it.
Traditionally, fir tree branches were twisted together and knotted with red ribbon and then decorated with pinecones, holly, laurel and sometimes mistletoe.
The significance of these are that the crown symbolises victory and being round calls to mind the Sun and its return and the emergence from dark winters each year.
The number four in addition to the four weeks of advent, also represents the four seasons of the year, the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, courage and justice, all being recognised in the bibles old testament as being the basic virtues required for a virtuous life).
The greenery is a sign of life and hope, the branches of the fir tree used as a symbol of strength and laurel a symbol of victory over sin and suffering, together with the holly laurel and the fir who don’t lose their leaves represent the eternity of God, and dare I say, (up to you) the white berries of the mistletoe for Christs purity, red holly berries represents the blood of Christ that he shed for us.
The candles represent the Christmas light approaching, bringing with it hope and peace and an end to the struggle against the darkness, for Christians the crown, the symbol of Christ crown of thorns resting on his head at his crucifixion.
The advent wreath is used to decorate homes and churches alike, the Advent wreath traditionally placed on a table if the candles are place in it or if not then usually on a front door, as a sign of welcome, and who can forget (if you are of certain age) the Blue Peter “make," a crown made from wire coat hangers and tinsel.
As we have mentioned before, the wreath has four candles place round, three mauve or purple and one pink, this being lit on the third Sunday also called Gaudete Sunday, Gaudet meaning “Rejoice," the middle white candle known as Christ candle is then lit Christmas Eve or day or both.
The candles can also have a deeper meaning and interpretation, if we look at it as the stages of salvation before the coming of the Messiah.
The first a symbol of forgiveness granted to Adam and Eve.
The second a symbol of faith of Abraham and the patriarchs who believed in the gift of the promised land.
The third the symbol of joy of King Dave, whose family line does not stop and bear witness to the agreement with God.
The fourth the teaching of the prophets who announce a reign of justice and of peace.
If you look much deeper, the four candles could represent the four stages of human history, creation, incarnation, redemption, judgement, (I'll leave that one with you.)
In other churches, the Orthodox have a wreath with six candles in a line, a six-week duration to the Nativity Fast/Advent.
In Sweden, white candles are used as a symbol of festivity and purity and are used to celebrate St Lucy day which falls on the 13th December right in the middle of advent.
On a final note, the readings during the Sunday church services in Advent follow a distinct theme, they are.
First Sunday, (Advent Sunday) looking forward to the second coming.
Second Sunday, we recall John the Baptist came the prepare for the Lord.
Third Sunday, (Pink Sunday or Gaudete Sunday). Again, about John the Baptist and other readings associated with the joy of the coming of the Saviour.
Fourth Sunday, Readings about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus and other reading relating to this.
So, whatever form of wreath you make, use or hang, I hope it brings a smile and adds joy to your Advent and Christmas celebrations.