The Beginning of the Season

For many Christian denominations, Advent commences four Sundays before December 25. Today marks the first day in this Christian season of preparation for Christ’s birth.

Although Advent dates back to the 4th century in the Church, the symbolism of the wreath and candles predates Christianity. The idea of an evergreen circular wreath represents everlasting life and the candles symbolize light during the dark of winter. Advent was originally treated as a season of penitence and fasting, much like the pre-Easter season of Lent. The somber tradition slowly faded, although Eastern Orthodox Christians still observe it.

The Advent season has evolved over the centuries. Although it is believed that some form of the Advent wreath was used from the Middle Ages on, a German Protestant named Johann Hinrich Wichern is credited with creating an Advent wreath with 23 candles (19 red and 4 white) to count the days until Christmas. Today, German Lutherans use an Advent calendar, which has also become a secular tradition. The Catholic Church uses three purple or blue candles and one pink candle. Each candle is lit on each Sunday during the church service in this order: purple, purple, pink, purple. Protestants use four red candles. Sometimes an Advent wreath has a white candle at its center that is lit on Christmas Day.