A Season of Waiting
Advent includes the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and begins this Sunday, November 29. It’s a time of expectancy and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
To help us observe the beauty of Advent, may I suggest the use of a wreath and candles (this is especially beneficial for homes with young children)? This is a longstanding tradition that was originally adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. But what does the wreath signify? I’m glad you asked:
The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, which is made of various evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ.
I have this beautiful explanation that I picked up somewhere:
“Even the individual evergreens that make up the wreath have their own meanings that can be adapted to our faith. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. The pine and holly signify immortality and the cedar signifies strength and healing. The pine cones that decorate the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole is meant to remind us of both the immortality of our souls and God’s promise of everlasting life to us through Christ.”
The candles, of which we are quite familiar, also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday. Traditionally, three of the candles are purple because the color violet is a liturgical color that signifies a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice. Many modern wreaths we see today have exchanged blue instead of purple, for the purpose of getting us to look heavenward for the second coming of Christ. But, for now, I’m going to focus on the purple candles.
- The first candle, which is purple, symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation felt in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
- The second candle, also purple, represents faith. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
- The third candle is pink and symbolizes joy. It is called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” and is pink because rose is a liturgical color for joy. The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent.
- On the fourth week of Advent, we light the final purple candle to mark the final week of prayer and penance as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, the “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”