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Holy Days December 6, 2016


The Advent Wreath—Ringing the Christian World

By Dr. Patricia Hughes
Director of Worship for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas

The Advent wreath compliments the twofold character of the liturgical season of Advent: looking back to the birth of the infant Jesus, Christ our Light, into the world, and marking a season of joyful expectation for another celebration of the Nativity of Christ. During Advent, scripture reminds us what God has done for us, and what God promises us at the end of our lives.

What is an Advent Wreath?

Throughout the Christian world, the Advent wreath is a well-celebrated, well-loved part of the décor leading up to Christmas.  The Catholic Book of Blessings describes the Advent wreath in this way: “Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed in a circle of evergreen (or green) branches into which are inserted four candles.  According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth one is rose. However, four violet or white candles may also be used.” (#1510, 1512) The Advent wreath may be placed in the church as well as the home.

In Germany, the Advent wreath has seeped into secular culture over the past five hundred years, finding its origin in the great cathedrals of Europe and even in the most humble of homes. This was probably due to an initial religious fervor plus a basic understanding of the season of Advent. This wreath, though, was easily duplicated in the home:  everyone had candles and branches to encircle the candles. In today’s Germany, the Advent wreath is still a strong, vibrant precursor of Christmas, with “application”:   Advent wreaths are found in posh hotel lobbies, sold in the produce section of every grocery store, available in abundance at all flower shops, and decorate the interior of banks, post offices, schools (public or parochial), and front porches.  From Berlin to Bavaria, the Advent wreath is the official herald of the approach of Christmas. The sacred has merged seamlessly with the secular.

The Colors and Candles of the Advent Wreath

Interestingly, there is no definitive source for the candle colors, and some catalogs display a white candle in the center of the wreath, which is to be lighted on Christmas and seems to symbolize the Light of Christ finally arriving.  The fifth candle is a recent entry into the Advent wreath market. One wonders, though, if the five-candle wreath would feel out of place in the Christmas adornment of the parish church.  After the last Sunday is Advent is marked by the lighting of the fourth candle, the wreath should give way to the golds, greens and white that truly distinguish the season of Christmas.

There is a core belief in the Catholic Church regarding progressive solemnity of the liturgy and of liturgical seasons.  During Advent, we anticipate—with increasing joy and hope—the celebration of the Solemnity of Christmas.  It is no wonder that Christmas isn’t “over” on December 26th!  The Church celebrates this important season for two weeks, until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

Create an Advent Wreath for your home

There is abundant encouragement from liturgical resources for creating an Advent wreath using live evergreens rather than artificial branches.  (Some fire marshals might tend to discourage this in a public place, such as a parish church.) The stronger point is to try to use fresh greens such as eucalyptus, boxwood, myrtle, lemon leaf or magnolia leaves to the wreath base.  It is possible that some of these greens may have to be replaced or refreshed halfway through Advent. Ribbons can be woven into the greens, remembering that bows have no significance on the wreath but color does. Live greens have an aroma, the “smell of Christmas,” which is a strong precursor of the upcoming Nativity.

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Here are some tutorials on how to make an Advent Wreath for your home: