They come in all sizes and with a variety of candle colors but where did the Advent Wreath come from and how did it become so popular?
The Advent Wreath traces its lineage to 16th century German Lutherans, but it was not until 1839 when Johann Hinrich Wichern really started to use it. Hinrich was a pioneer in the concept of Urban Ministry and seeing the inpatients of the children preparing for Christmas he devised wreath of sorts. He began with a wooden circle with 19 small red candles and four larger ones. Every morning a small candle was lit and on Sunday’s one of the larger ones. Custom has only the larger ones as part of the wreath now.
But what about the symbolism of the wreath itself?
The wreath is customarily constructed of evergreen to signify life during all of the seasons of the year. The evergreen also reminds us that God’s love for us will never fade. It is fashioned in a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God and God’s unbroken love for us. Four candles are placed around the wreath. In some churches, all the candles are purple whilst in other churches three are purple and one is rose or pink. Sometimes blue is used as well rather than purple. In the center of the wreath is a larger candle called the “Christ Candle” that is lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and all Sunday’s including Epiphany.
The Advent Wreath, with all of its candles, did bring more light into the church at a time when electric and even gas lamps were not used, but the spiritual significance of the wreath and the light is to illuminate the people with the light and the warmth of the coming of Christ into the world.
The four weeks of Advent each have a theme that corresponds to one of the candles. These themes focus on the four virtues that Jesus brings: hope, love, joy, and peace. There are other themes as well: Prophets, angels, shepherds, and the Magi as well as additional theological themes of the forgiveness of Adam and Eve, the faith of the Abraham and the Prophets, the joy of David, and the Teaching of the Prophets concerning justice and peace.
The center candle, the Christ candle, is lit on Christmas Eve as a sign of the completing of the Advent journey and the announcement of the birth of the Christ Child. With all of the candles of the wreath lit the full light of Christ has come into the world, and the “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah 9:2