photo by Alma Jones at Christ The King church, Kansas City, MO.
The photo shown above is the Advent Wreath at my mother's church, Christ The King. Mom assists in the seasonal decorating at her church and helped decorate this wreath. During Advent, the four-week period that leads up to Christmas, mom's church organizes a project for each week. Last week they put up 2 "giving trees" for needy families. The children that attend Christ The King school made paper ornaments for these trees and a list of the family's needs is attached to each ornament. Church members take an ornament, or more, from the trees and purchase the gifts on the list. The following week they bring the gifts back to the church where they are checked off the lists and then wrapped. My mother's church also holds food and clothing drives during the year for the needy. Our thanks and blessings go out to this giving and loving church!
It is customary in Christian religions to observe this period and the occasion is symbolized using a decorated wreath with four and sometimes five candles, one for each week. The wreath can be made of evergreens or a combination of herbs such as rosemary (dew of the sea), thyme (symbol of courage), and holly (symbol of suffering). In the Catholic church the candle colors are usually 3 purple and one rose color. In some churches the purple candles signify penitence and fasting. In the Protestant church, the candles are usually red, signifying the colors of the season.
The first candle to be lit is said to be the "prophet's" candle in anticipation of Jesus' coming. The second candle is the "Bethlehem" candle in recognition of the city of Christ's birth. Candle number 3 is the "Shepherds" candle and the fourth candle to be lit is the "Angels" candle-it was the angels that announced Christ's coming. Another variation of the wreath is the presence of a 5th candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This is the "Christ" candle that symbolizes Christmas.
Of course, there are various accounts of how the Advent Wreath originated. It is said that the wreath was a symbol of Advent in Northern Europe prior to the arrival of Christianity. Some sources say that it was established in Germany as a Christian custom in the 16th century, while others say it did not come along until the 19th century.
My favorite theory is the one of Johann Wichern (1808-1881), who was a Protestant pastor in Germany. At the mission school that Wichern founded, the children would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. So, in 1839, using an old wooden cartwheel, Wichern built a large wooden ring with 19 small red candles and 4 large white candles. He lit a small candle every weekday and a large candle on Sundays leading up to Christmas. Soon, the wreath was customary among the Protestant churches and later, in the 1920's the Catholics in Germany adopted the custom. And, today, many families make their own Advent Wreaths at home. I remember our home having the wreaths and we had Advent calendars marking each day in December leading up to Christmas Day. The calendars were a lot fun -there was a little window or door that you popped open each day with a Christmas picture and/or saying for that day.
Wreath as designed by Johann Wichern
I gained information for this article from my mother and wickipedia.org. The large photo at the top was taken by my mother in her church. The smaller photos were acquired from yahoo images.
Bring a torch Jeanette Isabella
Bring a torch, come swiftly and run.
Christ is born, tell the folk of the village,
Jesus is sleeping in his cradle,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the Mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the Son.
This song originated somewhere in the 1600's from the Provence region of France.