Lighting candles on an Advent Wreath during the four weeks leading up to Christmas has been tradition for many Catholic and Protestant families since sometime before the Middle Ages. The tradition emerged in central Europe where December evenings were cold and dark and gathering together sharing the warm light of candles to pray was appealing to many. The Advent Wreath itself is steeped in Christian symbolism. Lighting candles and reciting the prayers each night of Advent preceding Christmas day instills excitement and anticipation for the special day of Christ’s birthday. Children are especially found of Advent Wreaths as they can create an interactive prayer process leading up to Christmas which in itself is very exciting to the little ones.
Decorating and lighting the Advent Wreath is an experience which all members of the family can take part and the activity can reinforce and teach some important aspects of the Christian faith. The circular wreath is the most prominent symbolism represented in the Advent Wreath. The circular wreath represents the never ending love of God and also everlasting life. The evergreens which comprise the wreath also represent everlasting new life and the word Advent is derived from the Latin phrase ad-venio or “to come to” which is the English translation. Advent wreaths are often decorated with pine cones, seed pods, or nuts to further the symbolism of the resurrection and everlasting life.
There are many family activities which can be associated with an Advent tradition where even the youngest family member participates. Children can take part in gathering the materials to decorate the wreath from the back yard, a local park, nature preserve, or even excess clippings from the local Christmas tree lot. Our family assigns a week for each child to lead the decorating scheme for the wreath on their assigned week and the kids are very excited about putting their personal touch on the wreath for their week. Children can also be asked to recite the Advent prayer which changes each week along with the lighting of a new candle each week. The color of the candle assigned for the week is also coordinated with the priest’s vestments for the that week. There are three purple candles and one pink one. The pink is lit on the third week of Advent coordinated with the pink vestments associated with Gaudete Sunday. The purple candles represent the weeks of prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices associated with the weeks leading up to Christmas. The pink candle is lit on the third week in anticipation and celebration of Christ’s pending birth.
Gathering as a family to light the Advent Wreath is a tradition you and your family will remember for years to come. Little children are naturally excited four weeks before Christmas and the growing magnitude of light that builds as another candle is lit on a new week only adds to the excitement. Purchasing a sturdy Advent candle base which can be used each Christmas will ensure the practice is repeated each year. Decorating the wreath and leading the recital of the prayers will be a faith building experience for young and old. Lighting the Advent Wreath has been a beloved tradition for many Christians for over 1000 years. Isn’t it time you take the lead in beginning this excellent holiday tradition with your family?