Advent, which begins the Church’s liturgical year, began on Sunday, December 1.
Advent encompasses the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to the celebration of Christmas.
The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
We celebrate Advent by putting up an Advent Wreath and lighting candles each week. The use of the wreath and candles during Advent is a longstanding tradition that was originally adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas.
The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, which is made of various evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ.
Even the individual evergreens that make up the wreath have their own meanings that can be adapted to our faith. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. The pine, holly, and yew signify immortality and the cedar signifies strength and healing. The pine cones that decorate the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole is meant to remind us of both the immortality of our souls and God’s promise of everlasting life to us through Christ.
The candles also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday. Three of the candles are purple because the color violet is a liturgical color that signifies a time of prayer.
The first candle, which is purple, symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation felt in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
The second candle, also purple, represents peace. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. We remember that Jesus’ light is born into the world and is all around us and aspire to ‘right relationship’ with one another -- and also within ourselves.
The third candle is pink and symbolizes joy. It is called the “Sheppard’s Candle,” and is pink because rose is a liturgical color for joy. The third Sunday of Advent is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the final purple candle as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, often called “Mary’s Candle” symbolizes love. It reminds us of Mary’s faith waiting to bear a child that she knew was special.
There is often a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ. The color white is for purity.