Christmas Symbols

The Advent Wreath

The use of the ring like wreath laid flat with candles pre-dates Christianity. It was originally used in Europe along with candles to symbolize the cycle of the seasons. The candles and evergreen were used to demonstrate the continuation of life even in the deadly cold of the winter months. However, there is still some debate about when and where this use of the actual advent wreath emerged. Some argue that the use of the wreath can be dated back to as far as the middle ages, others have claimed that it began its official use in 16th century Germany while others still believe it was not used until the 19th century when the tradition was invented.

The invention of the advent wreath, according to the latter school of thought, can be attributed to a Protestant Pastor Hinrich Wichren. He was inspired to build the wreath like structure after being asked by children when Christmas would begin. To make it easier for the children he created the structure with 19 candles and 4 larger ones to signify a countdown to the day in question. Each week day one of the small candles was lit in the period of Advent. The larger candle was lit on Sunday. Soon this was adopted by other Protestant German churches and later transformed into the smaller more compact wreath displaying only four candles. Following this the Roman Catholic church began using the wreath somewhere around the 1920's, the custom then spread to North American churches in the 1930's.

The whole idea of Advent has changed over the centuries. In the middle ages, Advent was a time of sacrifice in which people fasted and waited for the second coming of Christ. However, this soon metamorphosed into the modern day significance of being the period just before Christmas. It can be said however, that the modern day Advent may still be likened to the tradition that initially began in the middle ages as it culminates with a large feast, an indirect acknowledgement of the cessation of the fasting period.