World’s #1 Catholic Store
Catholic Company
Free Shipping on 75
terms and conditions

The Advent Wreath Tradition & Meaning

Nov 14, 2016 By Gretchen Filz

For many Christians, Advent wreaths are a favorite way to celebrate the month of December leading up to Christmas Day. Although Advent Wreaths are popular among Christians, many are not aware of the rich meaning and symbolism embedded in the tradition. If we learn this meaning, we can appreciate it all the more!

DARKNESS AND LIGHT

The Advent candles readily demonstrate the strong contrast between darkness and light. In the Bible, Christ is referred to as the "Light of the World" contrasted with the darkness of sin. Human history spanned long ages before our prophesied Savior would finally make his appearance, and God's promise to make all things new through him.

As his Advent, or "coming," draws nearer another candle is lit, with each candle dispelling the darkness a little more. Thus, the Advent wreath helps us to spiritually contemplate the great drama of salvation history that surrounds the birth of God Incarnate who comes to redeem the human race.

 Nativity Advent Wreath

SHAPE, NUMBER, AND COLOR

 

SHAPE: The circular shape of the wreath, without beginning or end, symbolizes God's complete and unending love for us---a love that sent his Son into the world to redeem us from the curse of sin.  It also represents eternal life which becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.

NUMBER: The Advent Wreath traditionally holds four candles which are lit, one at a time, on each of the four Sundays of the Advent season.  Each candle represents 1,000 years.  Added together, the four candles symbolize the 4,000 years that humanity waited for the world's Savior---from Adam and Eve to Jesus, whose birth was foretold in the Old Testament.

Some Advent wreath traditions also include a fifth white "Christ" candle, symbolizing purity, that is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.  Many circular wreaths can incorporate a white candle by adding a pillar candle to the wreath center.

COLOR: Violet is a liturgical color that is used to signify a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice and is used during Advent and Lent.  Advent, also called "little Lent," is the season where we spiritually wait in our "darkness" with hopeful expectation for our promised redemption, just as the whole world did before Christ's birth, and just as the whole world does now as we eagerly await his promised return.

 Advent Wreath

THE FOUR WEEKS OF ADVENT

During the first two weeks of Advent we light the first two purple candles. The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. On this day we celebrate that our waiting for the birth of Jesus on Christmas day is almost over. Rose is a liturgical color that is used to signify joy, so we light the single pink candle on the third Sunday of Advent.

Then on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final purple candle is lit to mark the final week of prayer and penance as we wait expectantly for the soon-coming birth of the King of Kings.

Traditionally, each of the four Advent candles have a deeper meaning which is depicted in the lovely Four Weeks of Advent Pewter Wreath:

  • The 1st Sunday of Advent symbolizes Hope with the "Prophet’s Candle" reminding us that Jesus is coming.

  • The 2nd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Faith with the "Bethlehem Candle" reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.

  • The 3rd Sunday of Advent symbolizes Joy with the "Shepherd’s Candle" reminding us of the Joy the world experienced at the coming birth of Jesus.

  • The 4th Sunday of Advent symbolizes Peace with the "Angel’s Candle" reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”

  Four Weeks of Advent Classic Advent Wreath Set

ENHANCE YOUR WREATH WITH MORE SYMBOLISM

You can festively decorate your Advent Wreath with other natural materials that traditionally carry their own Christian symbolism. The use of evergreens reminds us of our eternal life with Christ; pointy holly leaves and berries represents the crown of thorns from the Passion of Jesus and his Precious Blood; and pine cones symbolize Christ’s Resurrection.

 

THE BLESSING OF THE ADVENT WREATH

The Advent Wreath tradition also involves an Advent wreath blessing.  The wreath is blessed at the beginning of Advent in a special ceremony, so that throughout the whole four weeks you or your family will be drawn into deeper conversion to Christ through its symbolism and meaning.  According to The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook by the Redemptorists:

"The blessing of the Advent wreath can encourage a wonderful sense of participation in the Advent spiritual journey. It is a wonderful devotion for the family, but it is also an appropriate devotion for those who live a single vocation---the blessing and the daily prayer does not have to be a group activity."

The book goes on to describe the blessing tradition for families by saying,

"One person reads the Advent wreath blessing and a second person reads the accompanying passage from Sacred Scripture and the reflection. A third person reads the concluding prayer."

The special Advent blessing is a wonderful way to start of the Advent season with a sense of meaning and purpose in anticipation of the many graces given during this liturgical season.

White Poinsettia Advent Wreath

ADVENT WREATH PRAYERS

In addition to the initial blessing of the Advent wreath at the beginning of the season, there are also special Advent prayers to be said around the wreath as a candle is lit each week.  Children in the family can also participate in this wonderful Christian tradition.

There are many Advent prayer books that include Advent wreath prayers to accompany the candle lighting to make it a special ceremony.  The parent reads the Advent prayer, and the children can offer a response.

Here is one prayer given for the First Sunday of Advent in the same book just mentioned, The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook:

Parent:  Lord, you are the light of our world.

Children: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Parent: O gracious God of promise, we prepare to worship together as we await the fulfillment of your wondrous plan. Help us to grow as we hear your Word and live in your love.

Children: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Parent: May the light of your love always shine in our hearts.

Children: Amen.

Hopefully this article helped you to understand the richness and graces to be enjoyed during the Advent season. Having and blessing the Advent wreath in your home, and using it to focus your prayer and mediation on welcoming Christ Himself into your heart, is a great way to prepare for the true meaning of Christmas.

Continue reading How to Celebrate Advent Like a Catholic

The Advent Wreath Tradition & Meaning

This article has been updated and was first published in 2012. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.

Comments

This is helpful work. Thank you! I'm working on a poem to post for this, the third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday (pink Sunday). The information you share here, presented with clarity and engagement, will help me feel all right (if not relieved) in what I post. I hope this is a season of blessings (now in 2018) for you and yours.
Judie says
Dec 10 2018 10:50PM
I remember in the 70's we lit the pink candle the last week of Advent. Sometime in the 80's it was changed to lighting the pink candle on the third week. Does anyone else remember this? Am I remembering right and if so why was it changed?
Deb Thomson says
Dec 9 2018 3:06PM
Thank you for this! I just spoke to our Pastor about this, and because I was away from the Catholic Church for many, many years, I thought that we Catholics treated the Advent Wreath the same way some Protestant churches did, with a candle-lighting ceremony each Sunday. Father explained that the wreath is blessed the First Sunday, and there is no specific name (Love, Peace, etc.) attached to the candles in Catholic tradition. Much of the Advent wreath traditions are for us to observe with our families at home, so the Catholic Church doesn’t spotlight the Advent wreath during Mass the way the Protestant churches do. His explanation prompted me to do the research, and I’m so happy to have found your post. It all comes together for me now. Thank you, and Happy Advent!
Suzanne says
Dec 5 2018 9:05AM
Ashley..a citation to the Middle Ages reference would be good because many, many historians disagree. All the Sites that mentin it seem to copy and paste from each other.

From what I know, the advent wreath with candles is not that old even if lighting candles on wreaths is.

The pink and purple candles are also a newer and catholic addition.
Hello Suzanne. Notice that I didn't claim that the modern advent wreath with the 3 purple and 1 rose candle goes back to the Middle Ages, simply that "by the 1600s both Catholics and some Christian denominations had formal traditions surrounding the advent wreath." This applies to domestic traditions, not official liturgical ones.

We're not sure if you've read through the other comments, but this comment from Gretchen may help:
"The modern version [of the Advent wreath] was likely predated by other forms prior to the Protestant Reformation (for example, St. Lucy wore a lighted wreath on her head to serve Christians hiding from persecution in the catacombs, and her feast day occurs during Advent). The Advent wreath was mainly a tradition of the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples, who largely went Protestant after the Protestant Revolt, and it was a tradition used in the home and not the churches. It’s incorporation into Catholic Churches is recent, but it’s practice by Catholics in the home is much older. Because it is a domestic tradition and not a liturgical one, it’s origins are more uncertain."

Notice that this separates domestic traditions from liturgical ones, and does note that liturgical use is certainly newer. It was after Vatican II that an official blessing of the Advent Wreath, to be prayed on the First Sunday of Advent at the start of Mass, was added to the Church's "Book of Blessings". So, if desired, one could possibly claim that around this time was when the official, liturgical traditions were put in place.

Hopefully that gives some clarification.
Jaret says
Dec 3 2018 12:48PM
this really helped me in my religion class, thx
Debbie says
Dec 2 2018 7:39PM
My family has been using an Advent Wreath with Prayers and Meditations during each day of Advent along with the Four Sundays of Advent for many many years. I am confused though about what each candle represents. I have seen a few different titles given to the symbolism of the candles. Your article gives a different title to one of the candles and a slight change in order. I have found in other Catholic websites the following:

Week 1 Hope

Week 2 Peace

Week 3 Joy

Week 4 Love

In teaching my children I would like to use the correct Catholic titles/symbolisms of the candles. Where could I find this information?

I understand that Pope John Paul II (may God rest his precious soul) introduced the Advent Wreath to the Vatican early in his Pontificate. Would you happen to know what year this was? Thank you so much for your kind attention to my questions. A most Blessed Advent Season to you.
Hello Debbie. The origins of the Advent wreath actually go back to the Middle ages, and by the 1600s both Catholics and some Christian denominations had formal traditions surrounding the advent wreath. I don't recall seeing that JPII established a particular Advent wreath tradition, though after Vatican II an official Advent wreath blessing was added to the Church's "Book of Blessings".

In regards to the 4 weeks, there are different traditions in regards to it. As far as I understand, there is not really one "right" way to reflect on the 4 weeks as long as you are reflecting on the scriptures, virtues, and attitudes that prepare us for the birth of Christ (penance, sacrifice, preparation, faith, hope, love, peace, etc) You may use the order we cite in the article or the ones you found otherwise! The one constant is that the 3rd Sunday of Advent, with the rose candle, symbolizes joy, the nearing the end of the penitential journey, and the imminent arrival of the Christ Child.
(Side note - There may also be an order inspired by the specific Sunday liturgies of the 4 Sundays of Advent. Perhaps a source of further research?)
Vivian says
Dec 1 2018 12:44PM
Thank you for this detailed information that is discribed in a form easily to explain to young children in faith formation classes.
Weldon Henderson says
Nov 26 2018 10:32AM
Thank you for your enhancement of understanding the Advent. As a Southern Baptist Minister we, as a congregation, do not normally commemorate Advent. I now consider this as a diminishing of the birth of Jesus. We will from this time forward always honor and teach the Advent.

Dr. Weldon Henderson
Anne says
Nov 11 2018 8:14PM
I enjoyed this article on Advent very much, as a child my parents always had an Advent wreath with the candles. As an Adult with a family we started the tradition, but at some point we stopped the tradition. After seeing this article I cannot wait till the beginning of Advent to start this beautiful tradition again and doing it the correct way and also understanding this tradition better. Thank you so much for sharing this tradition. God Bless and Merry Christmas!!!!!!
Very interesting article, thx !
Boyan Saev says
Apr 19 2018 12:14PM
this made no sense to me so how can i understand this if i am not catholic??????
Hi Boyan, can you be a little more specific? All of the wreath's symbolism isn't specifically "Catholic" but takes its roots from the Biblical traditions of the Old and New Testament...
Diego says
Jan 3 2018 2:50PM
I love advent!
Stacy says
Dec 18 2017 7:52PM
this is great for getting a more meaningful explanation on the wreath.
Giuseppe says
Dec 18 2017 6:06AM
Why are Catholics copying religious orders that left Catholicism the Lutherans?!!! This was invented by the Lutherans that left our Church and we copy them?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hi Giuseppe, the origin of the Advent wreath is debated, and some argue that it pre-dates the Protestant Revolt (for example, in St. Lucy's wreath of light). Although the Advent wreath does have its origins in Germanic and Scandinavian countries that largely went Lutheran, that does not necessarily mean that this tradition is therefore Lutheran in its origins. It is certainly a domestic tradition and not a liturgical one in its origins, so it can't be said that it was instituted as a Lutheran liturgical tradition, rather it made its way from the home to the churches in an organic way. In the Catholic Church there is no rite or liturgy associated with the lighting of the Advent candles.
Carol Frame says
Dec 14 2017 11:27PM
I read that the Advent Wreath is originally a Lutheran tradition later adopted by other Christian religions. Is that true?
Hi Carol, the origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain and debatable. The modern version was likely predated by other forms prior to the Protestant Reformation (for example, St. Lucy wore a lighted wreath on her head to serve Christians hiding from persecution in the catacombs, and her feast day occurs during Advent). The Advent wreath was mainly a tradition of the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples, who largely went Protestant after the Protestant Revolt, and it was a tradition used in the home and not the churches. It's incorporation into Catholic Churches is recent, but it's practice by Catholics in the home is much older. Because it is a domestic tradition and not a liturgical one, it's origins are more uncertain.
Dawn says
Dec 14 2017 8:03PM
I never knew any of this! You taught me and my daughter about this great tradition !
Olga Luna says
Dec 2 2017 8:41PM
May the spirit of Advent strengthen and deepen our faith to the love of Christ.

Thank you for all the work that you do in enabling this to happen.
Louise Lavery says
Dec 1 2017 9:57AM
Some lovely information regarding the Advent Wreath and it's tradition. This is something I will be sharing throughout advent.

In the light of Father John Sim's comments, I do think it important to draw attention to the fact that a Young Earth (4-6,000 years old) is not and never has been part of the Catholic Church's teaching. Just wanted to mention this so people don't become confused, but thank you for the article a great help!
Hi Louise, the reference is not to the age of the earth itself but rather a reference to the genealogy of mankind. Since Adam is a real historical figure, there is the tradition that 4,000 years separate Adam from Christ. However, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia this old tradition is not found in the Church's liturgy, so I am not certain where it originated.
Sandy says
Nov 29 2017 11:21PM
Hello, Gretchen,

How do I burn my Advent candles. I will have my wreath, and I know it is one candle per week. What I am asking is ... do I light one and let it burn down, or let one burn for awhile and then light the next one with it? I apologize for my making this complicated. It is my first year to observe this tradition.
Hi Sandy, you light the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent, the first and second candle on the Second Sunday, add the pink on the third Sunday, and finally light all four on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Joan Balogh says
Jan 1 2017 7:52PM
Thank you for printing the "time" requirements on the showing of and the taking down of the Advent wreath. We do have a Christ candle and we will disassemble ours tomorrow morning,

January 2. Thank you again. I also enjoyed reading the many

tributes to all the candles.
Brenda says
Dec 28 2016 12:05PM
Yes but what about in the church during advent and Christmas Day,should the purple and pink candles stay on for midnight mass,and when should the wreath be taken off the altar.
Hi Brenda, the Advent wreath should be taken down ahead of the Christmas Eve masses, unless a fifth white "Christ candle" is used in the center of the wreath, in which case it could probably stay up for the Christmas octave.
Jeff C. says
Dec 13 2016 9:09AM
When did the US Catholics adopt those colors. Photos from the Vatican show that popes from St. John Paul II to Pope Francis use four red candles. Growing up in Germany, it's all I ever saw in Catholic churches. The Lutherans used white candles. Now add to my confusion that the Cathedral in Cologne - where the three Wise men are interred - used four YELLOW candles! Are the colors prescribed or purely symbolic? Can I have one with four different colors?
Hi Jeff, purple is the official liturgical color of the Advent season, this is why the Advent candles are generally purple. But, this is not an absolute, the tradition is primarily about the candles themselves and less the color which may vary depending on the culture.
myla rublico says
Dec 11 2016 8:51PM
Hi, I am way behind the lighting of my advent candles since I just make mine today. The saleslady from where I bought my advent candles from said I can actually light all the 4 candles at once on Christmas day. Is it okay?
Hi Myla, we have one more Sunday of Advent left. You can now light two purple candles and one pink, then on Sunday, light the final purple candle.
eden says
Dec 11 2016 7:07PM
THANKS GRETCHEN FOR THE INFORMATION, NOW WE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS MORE MEANINGFUL WITH CHRISTMAS WREATH AT THE ALTAR.
eden says
Dec 11 2016 6:54PM
THANK YOU GRETCHEN. . . YOU HELP MANY PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS MORE MEANINGFUL. MORE POWER AND GOD BLESS!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Commentary by

Gretchen Filz Gretchen Filz

Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.

Read More from Gretchen Filz