Sunday, 22 December 2019 09:32

What is the symbolism of the Advent wreath?

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 The exact origin of the Advent wreath is not fully known, however, there is much evidence to show that this was a Germanic tradition that dates back several hundred years, and the wreath was originally a pagan practice. The pre-Christian Germanic people would light the candles during the cold winter months to remind themselves that the light and warmth of longer days would return.

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and we see evidence of German Christians using an adapted form of the wreath to prepare for Christmas. The Advent wreath as we know it today really began to become popular in the United States in the 1900s, as more German people began to immigrate to the United States and brought with them the tradition.

The wreath, often made from the branch of a pine tree, is fashioned together in a circle. The circle formation is significant in representing the eternity of God. God, the Alpha and Omega, has no beginning and end in himself, but is eternal. All created things, seen and unseen, past, present and future, come about through God’s creation.

Within the circle, four candles are placed, three of these candles are purple, one is rose colored (often seen as pink). Each candle corresponds to a week in Advent — the purple candles start being lit on the first and second weeks of Advent, while the rose-colored candle is lit on the third week. This third week is called Gaudete Sunday and symbolizes the joy and the approaching light of Christ.

As each week passes and another candle is lit, the light given off by the Advent wreath increases. This increasing light symbolizes the growing proximity of Christmas, where after the fourth Sunday of Advent, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, who became incarnate in our human history, as our newborn king.

Although it may not always seem like it, Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season in the Catholic Church. During Advent, we give thanks to the Lord for his many blessings to us and ask him to help prepare us to grow in love, compassion, joy and generosity. I pray this Advent season is one of great blessings and joy to you and your family.

Father Marty Smith is pastor at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Jerseyville and St. Patrick Parish in Grafton and is an associate director for the Office of Vocations for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.