Advent Tradition, Old and New

When I was growing up, my family did not have an Advent wreath, since my grandparents (who raised me) were barely practicing Protestants. I went to the Catholic church, so I saw the Advent wreath there, and learned what Advent was through religious education at my parish. But I don’t think I realized until college that individual families could have Advent wreaths in their homes. Oops.

My education in Advent traditions began then, and continues to grow with each passing year. I now relish the weekend after Thanksgiving, when I can take our wreath out of storage and set it up in a place of prominence in our dining room. I love lighting each candle as the weeks leading up to the birth of Christ get closer. I love singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel as we begin evening prayer together, in our domestic Church.

Here’s some Advent wreath history and ideas for traditions surrounding this beautiful and holy symbol.

The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould gives a helpful chart showing what the traditional items in an Advent wreath symbolize:

wreath: the eternal nature of God

holly: the crown of thorns

bay: victory over sin and death

violet: penance

rose: joy

The first candle symbolizes Isaiah and the prophets who foretold the coming of Christ. The second candle symbolizes the Bible. The third candle (the pink one!) symbolizes Mary, the mother of God. The fourth symbolizes John the Baptist, who called Jesus the light of the world. And placing a large white pillar candle at the center symbolizes Jesus, the light of the world.

I love it! All the symbolism brings out the English lit major in me (I lasted for two semesters).

Anyway, since there’s no official rite for Advent wreaths in the home, we’re free to be very creative in this Advent devotion. Here are some ideas:

As you light each Advent candle, read the Gospel passage for that day, or a Scripture passage from the time leading up to Jesus’ birth.

Combine Advent candle lighting with opening doors on your Advent calendar (Ours has chocolate — thanks grandma!).

Sing Advent hymns or carols while you light the candle. Or, if you’re not much of a singer, you can listen to recordings of them.

Pray the joyful mysteries of the Rosary accompanying the lighting of Advent wreath. These are great mysteries to meditate on during Advent.

I’d also recommend the book Mary and the Christian Life: Scriptural Reflections on the First Disciple by Amy Wellborn. I got this book last year during Advent, and although it’s small, it’s got some wonderful stuff for meditation on during both Advent and Lent. Mary and the Christian Life: Scriptural Reflections on the First Disciple


This year, as part of Advent devotions, I am doing a daily gratitude journal. Mostly because, although I am very blessed, I have a tendency to dwell on that which I do not have. But also partially because I need to be constantly reminded that all of the blessings I do have are from God, and not mine because I have earned or deserve them. I think keeping a daily list of blessings can help remind me of the Source of all gifts.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”

I pray that this Advent I will be able to remember that message and pause to make room in my busy, distracted heart, for the Source of all good and perfect gifts, who longs to be born in me (and all of us) anew this Christmas.

What are your Advent traditions and devotions? I’d love to hear about them!




5 thoughts on “Advent Tradition, Old and New

  1. We always said growing up that the candles were for the prophets, the angels, the wise men and the shepherds. And we’d argue about the order. We usually decided to light the wise men before the angels, because the wise men would have had to start their journey such a long time before Christ was born.

    But then, if you think they didn’t come till he was a couple of years old, we still got it wrong. 🙂

    Your wreath is very pretty. And that Mary book looks interesting.

  2. We’re planning on praying a decade of the rosary. Preparing our hearts with Mother Mary!

    Thanks for the other Advent ideas. We’ll be using those as well!

  3. These are some good ideas. I don’t have a lot of Advent traditions to share, as it is a season I have more or less ignored until the last couple of years. I didn’t mean to ignore it, I just didn’t know what to do with it. These thoughts help!

  4. I made one in CCD classes one year… and have loved the tradition ever since. Unfortunately transferring to the Maronite Catholic Church makes it hard to do one because we have 6 weeks of Advent & the wreath is nowhere in site. I miss it. My husband keeps talking about getting a 6 candled one made, but not sure how we’d work out the details lol.

  5. i was adamant about making my own advent wreath this year and using these upcoming weeks to really “prepare my heart” and focus on that which matters during this season. i like it so far, and one bonus is its making me less selfish and like you, causing me to dwell on the “have’s” not the “have nots”.
    we got a free advent calendar with bible verses from our student center that we got to open today! can you believe my husband (the cradle catholic) never had an advent calendar, but i (the barely lutheran) had one every year of my childhood?! its nice to start some of these traditions in our little family. thanks for the ideas!

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