Candle ceremonies are common components in many faith traditions and religious rituals. Jews pray the menorah at Hanukkah and African American Kwanzaa employs mishumaa candles. The Christian faith uses the Advent wreath at Christmas. The Advent wreath is an ancient practice observed in many Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian churches and homes around the world. Catholic families generally have their own advent wreath. Prayers and devotions are said as Advent candles are lit.
The Advent wreath can be made in a variety of designs and from various materials. It can be very large or quite small. The wreath may be made of fresh or artifiicial evergreens. It may also be a gold or silver circle of metal. There are wooden Advent wreaths as well. Probably the most symbolic Advent wreath is one made from fresh evergreens cut from the family Christmas tree. Evergreens represents eternal life and the sharp needles bring to mind the sufferings of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The circle is representative of God’s unending love and care. A circle also has no corners for anyone to be lost in–everyone is included. Teach children the symbolism in your devotions to make Jesus and Christmas more meaningful.
The Advent wreath is a round candle holder with four equidistant candles around it. Three candles are blue or purple and one is pink or rose. Purple was the traditional color, depicting the royalty of Christ the King. Purple also represents the passion of Christ. His crucifixion and death are never far from the thoughts of the faithful even in the joy of Christmas. Advent, like Lent, is a penitential and preparatory season so purple candles are used.
But blue candles can also be used in place of purple. Blue is the color of loyalty and hope. It’s the color for the Blessed Mother. The one pink candle represents Joy, the virtue celebrated on the second Sunday of Advent, called Gaudette (Joy) Sunday. Many Advent wreaths place a larger white Christ candle in the center. It’s a version of the Easter candle and is lit on Christmas day. Just as Christ’s suffering is near to our hearts, so is His resurrection and power over death.
Advent comes from the Latin verb form “ad vento” (to come or arrive). As with any special coming, arrival or advent, people must prepare. Awaiting the coming of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem is like waiting for a special visit. As guests are anticipated with eagerness, so the faithful ready themselves and their homes to greet baby Jesus during Advent. Activities like prayer, fasting and almsgiving prepare Jesus’s followers for his coming.Each week of Advent, a different virtue is practiced.
The first week of Advent is Expectation. One blue or purple candle is lit in expectation that something special will happen. In your devotions, explain to children that as a mom “expects” a child, worshipers expect a the arrival of a very special life into the world. As the Jews awaited the Messiah, who would free them from Rome, a Christian anticipates a miracle. Catholic Christians say that the spirit of the Christ Child is born anew in their hearts at Christmas. This inspires spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Ask children what they might do to show the love of Jesus to others.
The Second Sunday of Advent focuses on Hope. Two blue or purple candles are lit in hopes that the Savior of the World will come. This is hope with a capital H, meaning persevering faith or trust. It’s not to be confused with little “h” hope used to mean wish or want, such as a child who hopes for a certain toy at Christmas. A Christian puts his hope or trust in Jesus as infant, Saviour and Lord. He is trustworthy and will never disappoint as worldly “hopes” often do. In their devotions, children can compare how Jesus gives hope when other things fail.
The Third Sunday of Advent Gaudette or Joy Sunday. Light two blue or purple candles and the one pink candle to show joy. Joy is understood as the “peace that passes all understanding.” Because a Catholic Christian expects a special guest and trust that He will arrive, they feel joy. There is excitement and even thrill that the Savior of the World chose to become a lowly infant in obedience to His heavenly father. This joy is real and outlasts fleeting happiness over new toys that break, get lost or fail to satisfy. For their devotions, children can draw a thanksgiving booklet for God’s blessings and things that give them joy.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent focuses on Anticipation. Catholic Christians lights all four candles in eagerness for the arrival of the infant Messiah (“Christ” in Greek). Everything possible is done to ready the heart for the coming of Jesus. Just as people clean, prepare and decorate for guests, Catholic Christians tidy their lives. They clean up messes and bad habits, put away pettiness make their souls warm comfortable places for the Guest. As children help with Christmas preparations encourage them to prepare their hearts with confession, reconciliation and penance (model that for them).
On Christmas Eve at midnight mass or Christmas Day light the Christ candle only in joyous gladness that hope, expectation and anticipation have been fulfilled.