Folktales, Legends, and Stories

The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is one of our most popular holiday traditions. It originated in pre-Christian Germany and Scandinavia where, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, people gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. This practice dates back to ancient times. The winter solstice is that time in the year when the sun reaches its southern most point in the heavens and the days are the darkest and gloomiest. Because these ancient peoples longed for the return of the sun's light, they stopped all usual activity and sacrificed the use of their wagon wheels, hanging them up festooned with lights and greens in their celebration halls. There they awaited the return of their sun god, thinking of the warmth and life he brought. Celebrations culminated in the "nativity" of the sun, the turning point of the year.

As Christians, we use the same meaningful custom to anticipate the feast of the light and life: the Nativity of the Savior. We add one light (candle) on the wreath for each Sunday in Advent. We think of the darkness after Adam's sin and watch the growing hope and light as the prophets and Virgin help us prepare for the Savior's birth.

The first candle on the Advent wreath is called the Prophecy candle, opening up the period of waiting for the birth of Christ. It is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, and the remaining candles are lit on subsequent Sundays.

The second candle is the Bethlehem candle, a symbol of the preparation being made to receive and to cradle the Christ child and a reminder of God's first appearance in such a humble manner. The third candle (a rose-colored one) is the Shepherds' candle. It represents the act of sharing Christ and the joy that Advent is half over. The fourth candle is the Angels' candle, the candle of peace, love, and the message of good news the angels bring.

On Christmas morning the family replaces the violet and rose candles with four bright red candles signifying great joy. In the wreath's center will be placed a white candle, signifying the birth of the Christ Child. The white candle is used to light all the red candles. Now the family will read from the scriptures and offer prayers and sing Christmas carols.

From an article published in Junior Section of the Zornička, Vol. 66, No. 802 November -December 2007. Published by Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union. Edited by Ms. Cecilia B. Gaughan.