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The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. The Advent Wreath is traditionally a Lutheran practice, albeit it has spread to many other Christian denominations.
It is usually a horizontal evergreen wreath with four candles and often, a fifth, white candle in the center. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible reading and prayers. An additional candle is lit during each subsequent week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit. Many Advent wreaths include a fifth, Christ candle which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom is observed both in family settings and at public church services.
The ring or wheel of the Advent wreath of evergreens decorated with candles was a symbol in northern Europe long before the arrival of Christianity. The circle symbolized the love of God which has no beginning and no end while the evergreens and lighted candles signified the persistence of life in the midst of winter. Some sources suggest the wreath—now reinterpreted as a Christian symbol—was in common use in the Middle Ages, others that it was established in Germany as a Christian custom only in the 16th century. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring.
Other evidence suggests that the Advent wreath was not invented until the 19th century. Research by Prof. Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath. During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America. Professor Haemig's research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.
In Medieval times advent was a fast during which people's thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ; but in modern times it has been seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach of the feast.
More recently, some Eastern Orthodox families have adopted an Advent wreath with six candles symbolizing the longer Christmas fast in Orthodox tradition, which corresponds to Advent in Western Christianity.
Forms of the Advent wreath
In Catholic churches, the most popular colours for the Advent candles are violet and rose, corresponding with the colors of the liturgical vestments for the Sundays of Advent. In the Western church, Violet is the historic liturgical color for three of the four Sundays of Advent: Violet is the traditional color of penitential seasons. Rose is the color for the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word meaning "to rejoice"--also from the first line of the traditional entrance prayer (called the Introit) for the Mass of the third Sunday of Advent. Rose-colored vestments are used on Gaudete Sunday, as a pause to the penitential spirit of Advent 
In Protestant churches it is more common to use four red candles (reflecting their traditional use in Christmas decorations) because rose vestments and decorations are not commonly used in Protestant churches. Blue is also a popular alternative color for both Advent vestments and Advent candles, especially in some Anglican and Lutheran churches. This is in keeping with the liturgical seasons; blue means hope and waiting, which aligns with the seasonal meaning of Advent. Other variations of the Advent wreath add a white candle in the centre to symbolize Christmas, sometimes known as the "Christ candle." It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. White is the traditional festal colour in the Western church. Four red candles with one white one is probably the most common arrangement in Protestant churches in Britain.
- Peter C. Bower. The Companion to the Book of Common Worship. Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Retrieved 2010-12-02. "It apparently emanated from the Lutheran tradition, but it has been appropriated by almost all other traditions."
- John Trigilio, Kenneth Brighenti. The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions. Sourcebooks. Retrieved 2010-12-02. "Historically, the Advent wreath is a Lutheran custom dating back three hundred years ago."
- Carl Seaburg. Celebrating Christmas: An Anthology. Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. Retrieved 2010-12-02. "The use of an Advent Wreath originated a few hundred years ago among Lutherans in Germany."
- Dennis Bratcher. The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope. Christian Research Institute. Archived from the original on 2 January 2011. Retrieved 2010-12-02. "Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the hope and promise of long ago have been realized."
- Saunders, William. "The History of the Advent Wreath", Arlington Catholic Herald, 2000
- "Christmas customs and recipes", Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH
- "Johann Hinrich Wichern biography (in German)". Medienwerkstatt-online.de. 2008-01-05. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- "Orthodoxy Today". Orthodoxy Today. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- "Catholic Encyclopedia: Advent". Newadvent.org. 1907-03-01. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- "What Color is Lent?". Adoremus.org. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- BBC News, "Christian celebration of Advent" (BBC Mobile, 16 November 2010, accessed December 19, 2010).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Advent wreaths.|
- Advent wreath FAQ at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America web site
- Advent hymns including two examples of Advent Wreath carols
- Advent Bible Themes