Advent Wreaths: A Cherished Tradition
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
by Allie Shoulders, Director of Adult Discipleship
Advent Wreaths are not about rules or perfect design. They can be created and used by families with small or school aged children, empty nesters or someone living alone - really anyone. They are most certainly not a symbol to measure or prove what a "good" Christian we are, personally, I cannot begin to count the years I did not get around to lighting the weekly candle on the "correct" day. The candle was lit later in the week, and it still had meaning. Advent Wreaths are a physical reminder that something is very important is coming.
Advent was not a word I heard often growing up, if at all. If I had heard it, I might have just assumed it was one of those fussy Christian words that was more theoretical than "real life." I just noticed people moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas, often with a sense of urgency to find the best gift for everyone on their ever-growing gift list, getting the chore of decorating done amidst weekends filled with parties and celebrations that often began to feel tiring as we got closer to Christmas. I would hear people say, "We need to put Jesus back into the season," but with all the busyness, that sounded more like a chore than a grace. When I eventually learned that Advent means "coming" I received it as an invitation, I began to slow down and crave the healing and lessons of the season.
The season of Advent always starts four Sundays before Christmas. This year that is November 29th. Obviously very soon after Thanksgiving. But there is something beautiful about that, too. We have just paused to recognize our blessings from the past year before moving to four weeks of anticipation. It gives intentional space to step away from seasonal mechanics. For me, the Advent Wreath is always the first decoration put out, even as we are still eating the leftovers of Thanksgiving.
Advent Wreaths can look very traditional and formal or be free-form and creative. Some design elements have come to have great meaning for me. In the round or circular shape of the wreath I am reminded that God's love is without end. It also reminds me of interdependence of the Trinity. The greenery and other natural elements, such as flowers and pinecones, remind me of creation and new life, and that the God who created all this also created you, me and everyone we will ever meet. One thing all Advent Wreaths have in common is four candles that represent the four Sundays of Advent. Each Sunday and candle is organized around a theme that points to God's goodness: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. I use white candles, but you could use other colors. This is something I switch up. Different colors have different meanings, or signify the choice of a particular denomination, but using all white candles are a reminder of simplicity. An additional 5th candle, most often a pillar or votive, is included and is called the Christ Candle. It is lit on Christmas Day. It is white to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that He is without sin.
There is no question - cherished traditions will be different this year. For all of us there will be some loss, and mourning these things is appropriate. This year I look forward to the weekly Sunday night Zoom gatherings on the four Sundays of Advent that allow us to light our wreath candles as church family, something I could have never imaged last year. However you enter into Advent and the season of coming, may you experience renewed wonder that God sent his son to live among us to show us his nature.