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
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.
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!