It creeps up on us every year, doesn’t it? But, today marks the first Sunday in Advent. While some people think Advent begins on December 1st, Advent in fact begins four Sundays before December 25. That means Advent will last between 22 and 28 days, depending on the year. And in some years, the final Sunday of Advent can coincide with Christmas Eve!
For centuries, the beginning of Advent has been marked by lighting the first purple candle of an Advent wreath. The Advent wreath itself goes back to the Middle Ages and is a tradition shared by Western Christians, both Protestant and Catholic. The wreath often is made of evergreens signifying enduring life. We have a brass one where the “leaves” are formed of shiny metal, and you can interweave evergreen branches.
Within the wreath are placed three purple candles (lit on the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Sundays) and one rose-colored candle (lit on the 3rd Sunday). A fifth candle (white) called Christ candle is placed in the center and lit on Christmas Day.
You can find posts and videos on the internet that show different ways to make an Advent wreath. Some will propose other colors for the candles, or omit the Christ candle, or perhaps come up with entirely new designs, including wreaths that are angular or have secular symbols. But if you’re observing Advent as preparation for the coming of Christ, we recommend sticking with the traditions. In fact, throughout the posts in this Advent Calendar, I will be focusing on the value of traditions—learning them and keeping them.
Each time we decorate, sing songs, draw pictures, or make an Advent wreath, we recreate our traditions through the arts. The arts give us immediate ways to pass traditions on to our children. They remind us of the reasons behind the traditions. They are colorful symbols that draw the family closer.
So, it’s not about the wreath, but how the wreath helps us move through the season of Advent in a purposeful way. Advent gives us an opportunity to guide our families through a long, reflective season of preparation for Christ’s birth.
And it starts with the lighting of the first candle. There are traditions in what may be said and done. Those traditions honor the status of each member of the family and employ the beauty of language. When lighting the Advent wreath at home, traditionally the father blesses it with a prayer and the youngest child then lights the first candle. (Other family members have roles to play in the weeks to come.)
Your church may have a traditional prayer for this occasion, like one of these:
O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen
You may wish to ask a child to offer a prayer instead. Then, you may wish to follow this with a Scripture reading, such as Isaiah 2:1-5. As the days of Advent pass, may the wreath be a constant reminder of the Promised Messiah. Candle-by-Candle, let its light spread to make a complete circle, until, on Christmas Day, the light of Christ shines in the middle.