November 27 marks the beginning of Advent, four weeks of prayerful preparation for Christmas. In many parts of the world, it’s customary to decorate one’s door with an evergreen wreath during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Many Christian Churches and homes also maintain the tradition of an Advent wreath, an evergreen wreath decorated with four candles: three violet and one pink.
The first Advent wreath was invented by Johann Hinrich Wichtern, a Protestant pastor in Hamburg Germany, around 1840. The Advent wreath was originally two feet in diameter, and had 28 candles, four white for Sundays, and 24 red for the weekdays. Over the course of nearly 100 years, the wreath was simplified to four candles, and began to follow the Catholic liturgical colors for the Sundays of Advent: violet except for the third Sunday, which was rose-colored for Gaudete Sunday, symbolizing the hopeful anticipation of a season half completed.
In some traditions, the candles have names. The first is the prophets’ candle, the second is the Bethlehem candle. The third is the shepherds’ candle, and the fourth is called the Angels’ candle. There are a variety of prayers and brief prayer ser-vices associated with the Advent wreath.
Like a traditional Advent Calendar, with its little doors that open one for each day, the Advent wreath is a means of marking time, in a season that is all about anticipation and hope. It’s also a way of connecting a family’s prayer at home with the community’s liturgical prayer on Sunday.