“Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour” (Matt. 25:13).
The Advent wreath is wonderful tradition that will delight you and your family. Lighting the candles of the wreath each night and reciting a Scripture or Advent prayer are easy ways to enter into the rhythms of the season. If you have children, the wreath is not only fun and memorable — it will also help them grasp the deeper significance of the season.
The traditional Advent wreath is a circle of evergreen branches with four candles, one for each week of Advent. The candles are lit in succession: one for the first week of Advent, two for the second week, and so on. As Advent progresses, the wreath becomes a growing circle of light, symbolizing the hope and joyful anticipation in our hearts as we await the coming of Christ. Often, a fifth candle, the Christ candle, is placed in the center of the wreath and lit on Christmas.
The candles are lit each night of Advent as family or friends gather for the evening meal, and a prayer is recited. Many people also read Scriptures and sing hymns or carols as they light the candles.
Prayers for an advent wreath
There are many different prayers you can use for your Advent wreath tradition, and you can even write your own. We encourage you to select prayers that reflect the spirit of the season and its movement from darkness to light, from solemnity to joy.
The Prayers & Scripture page contains traditional prayers for each week of Advent drawn from the Book of Common Prayer and the Revised Common Lectionary.
Colors of the advent candles
There is spirited but lighthearted debate over what color the Advent candles “should” be. Typically, if there is a Christ candle at the center of the wreath, it is white or gold. For the other four candles, Christians follow three main traditions:
Purple and rose: In Catholic churches and homes, the Advent wreath has three purple candles and one rose (or pink) candle. Purple is traditionally associated with sorrow, prayer, and penitence, and is also the liturgical color for Lent. The rose candle, the third candle in the Advent wreath, represents joy and is lit on the Sunday of Joy.
Deep blue: Many Protestant churches and homes use candles of a deep or royal blue rather than purple. Deep blue symbolizes royalty — a coming King. It’s also the color of the sky in the cold, dark hours just before the sun rises. Blue candles reflect the expectant, hope-filled themes of Advent and help to distinguish this season from Lent. A rose candle is often still used for the Sunday of Joy.
Red: The Advent wreath as we know it today probably originated with Christians in Germany. In German tradition, the wreath has four red candles.
There was a playful scandal in 2011 when a photographer inside the Vatican captured an image of the Advent wreath of Pope Benedict XVI, a German native. The wreath had four red candles instead of the traditional purple and rose. It just goes to show: there is no “liturgically correct” set of colors for an Advent wreath. Whatever colors you choose, let them bring your heart and mind to remembrance of Christ.
[Banner image: Advent Kranz, image credit.]