Advent is approaching, and in many households and all Catholic churches the traditional wreath celebrating the season will be prominently displayed. 

The Advent wreath, which is a European tradition, can be an evangelization tool to teach children about the real meaning of the Christmas season. Advent is not only a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also a time to prepare our hearts to receive him.

The wreath, which holds four candles, symbolizes the bringing of the light of Christ into the world. The church uses the four candles to spiritually mark the progression of Advent, with each Sunday offering its own promise.

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Progressively lighting the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding Christ’s birth, as well as anticipating his second coming.

The purple candles, of which there are three, portray the contrast between darkness and light. Christ, often referred to as the “Light of the World,” blocks out the darkness of sin, and with each passing week, as additional candles are lit, the light incrementally overshadows the darkness. 

Prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices and good works are symbolized by the purple candles. 

The rose candle is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, otherwise known as Gaudete Sunday. On that Sunday, the priest will wear rose vestments rather than purple vestments worn throughout Advent, symbolizing the joy of Gaudete Sunday, which is the halfway point of Advent. For the faithful, that means their time of preparation has reached the halfway point and Christmas is getting closer.

The wreath’s circle of evergreen, where the candles are placed, symbolizes everlasting life. Other decorations, including nuts and cones, represent the nourishing fruitfulness of Christian/Catholic life.

On the First Sunday of Advent, a common practice is to bless the wreath with holy water before the first candle is lit. 

Each of the four candles represents 1,000 years, totaling a combined 4,000 years, believed to be the number of years from the time of Adam and Eve to the birth of Jesus.

The First Sunday of Advent offers the promise of hope. Faith is symbolized during the second Sunday, also known as the “Bethlehem Candle,” reminding Christians of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus would be born.

Joy, of course, comes with the third Sunday and the fourth Sunday, commonly referred to as “Angel’s Candle,” peace.

Advent prayers, including those to be prayed weekly as each candle is lit, are available.