Catholic Advent wreath: all we need to know

Besides the Advent calendar tradition, there is another significant symbol of this season we can’t ignore: the Catholic Advent wreath. In this article, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about this worldwide known custom.

Where does the Advent wreath come from?

The Catholic Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a European custom. Although the concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century, it’s in the mid-1800s that the modern Advent wreath took shape. Its inventor was a German Protestant pastor, who took care of poor orphans in an urban mission in Hamburg. During the Adventide of 1839, children at the mission were asking daily if Christmas had arrived, so the pastor came up with the ritual of the Advent wreath. He built a large wooden ring made out of an old cartwheel with 20 small red candles, lit on weekdays and Saturdays, and 4 large white candles, on Sundays. This custom helped children to be patient, and to understand the meaning of the weeks that led up to Christmas.

Nowadays, the custom evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five big candles that we know.

The Advent wreath’s composition and use

The Advent wreath is composed of a wreath of intertwined evergreen branches, holding up candles. Every Sunday of Advent a candle is lit. Often, modern crowns add a fifth candle, which is lit at Christmas. We keep the Advent wreath at home in a prominent place, and usually, we assign the task of lighting the candles to the youngest of the family.

What does each Advent candle symbolize?

Each of the Advent candles has a name and a very precise meaning. 

• On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the “Candle of the Prophet” or “Candle of Hope”. It recalls the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.
• On the second Sunday of Advent, we light the “Candle of Bethlehem” or “Candle of the universal call to salvation”. It reminds us of the city where the Messiah was born.
• On the third Sunday of Advent, we light the “Candle of the Shepherds” or “Candle of Joy”. It recalls the shepherds who worshipped Jesus as he was born.
• On the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we light the “Candle of the Angels”. This candle reminds us that the Angels were the first to announce the coming of the Messiah.

Which are the Advent candles colors?

• Purple (or violet) is the primary color of Advent, symbolizing repentance and fasting. Churches used to light purple or blue candles on the first and the second Sundays of Advent.
• Pink (or rose) is a color of the Advent too, and it is used during the third Sunday of Advent. The pink color symbolizes joy and reveals a shift away from repentance toward celebration.
• White color represents purity and light. The fourth, and eventually the fifth candle of the Advent wreath, are white and they announce the forthcoming arrival of the Savior.