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, although 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, devotional time 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.
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 in the 19th century. 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 and Saturday 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 churches, which use a blue shade associated with the Sarum rite, and some Lutheran churches. One interpretation holds that 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.
In some Protestant churches, the candles represent hope, peace, love and joy. Often the third candle, representing love, is a different color than the other three, representing the importance of love as the greatest of all the qualities that abide eternally.
- 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.
- Geddes, Gordon; Griffiths, Jane (2001). Christianity. Heinemann. p. 96. ISBN 9780435306953.
Every day during Advent, the candle is lit and burnt down to the next number. In many homes, a reading from the Bible and a prayer accompanies the lighting of the candle.
- Bradner, John (1977). Symbols of Church Seasons and Days. Morehouse-Barlow Company. ISBN 9780819212283.
The Advent wreath usually rests on a horizontal surface. This is especially appropriate when it is used in the home as the center for daily Advent devotions.
- Dennis Bratcher. The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope. Christian Research Institute. Archived from the original on 2011-01-02. 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.
- Colbert, Teddy (1996). The Living Wreath. Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9780879057008.
It is believed that the European advent wreath began as a Lutheran innovation in the sixteenth century.
- Mosteller, Angie (2010-05-15). Christmas, Celebrating the Christian History of Classic Symbols, Songs and Stories. Holiday Classics Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 098456490X.
The first clear association with Advent is generally attributed to German Lutherans in the 16th century. However, another three centuries would pass before the modern Advent wreath took shape. Specifically, a German theologian and educator by the name of Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881) is credited with the idea of lighting an increasing number of candles as Christmas approached.
- BAYERN TOURISMUS Marketing GmbH (2013-12-29). "Bavaria- Christmas customs and recipes - Christmas customs - Tradition - About Bavaria". BAYERN TOURISMUS Marketing GmbH. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
- "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).
- "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)". pcusa.org. 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
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