Celebrating the true meaning of Advent

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Adding meaning to the festive season

Celebrating the true meaning of Advent
(Getty Premium Images)

Advent candles and calendars are traditional symbols used to celebrate the Advent. One candle is lit each week of the Advent, and an Advent calendar features 25 small doors, usually paper, with one to open on each day, revealing a holiday icon or thoughtful word.

— Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event

Every year, millions of Christians celebrate Advent as the Christmas season gets under way. Advent, which means “coming” or “arrival,” celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The Advent season runs for four weeks, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continuing up to Christmas Eve.

Traditions of Advent

Celebrating the true meaning of Advent
(Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

So what are the traditions of Advent? “Advent candles and calendars are traditional symbols used to celebrate the Advent,” said Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event. “One candle is lit each week of the Advent, and an Advent calendar features 25 small doors, usually paper, with one to open on each day, revealing a holiday icon or thoughtful word.”

The Advent candles each have their own meanings, as well.

In total, there are four or five candles, depending on the tradition, which represent the light of God coming into the world through the birth of his son, Jesus, according to Dennis Bratcher of the CRI/Voice Institute in “The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope” on the CRI/Voice Institute’s website, The Voice. They are usually displayed within an evergreen wreath, which symbolises the never-ending presence and mercy of God.

Popular tradition mandates that three of the candles are purple, the historical colour of royalty and the symbolic colour of penitence. However, some churches and parishioners opt for blue candles as a way to differentiate Advent from Lent. Another candle is pink or rose coloured to represent the joy at the approaching coming of Christ. In the traditions that use a fifth candle, often Protestant denominations, the last candle is white to represent Christ himself.

Traditionally, the candles are arranged in a circle around the wreath, with the white candle in the middle. The outer candles symbolise the waiting period leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. Placing the white candle in the wreath’s center symbolises Christ as the light of the world.

Each Sunday of Advent, a new candle is lighted. The candles represent different aspects of the Advent story, usually in a theme or as various people in the story. For example, using a theme, Lilly says the purple or blue candle lit the first Sunday means “hope,” with the purple or blue candle lit the second Sunday meaning “love.” The pink or rose candle representing “joy” is lit the third Sunday, and the third purple or blue candle represents “peace” when it is lit the fourth Sunday. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to represent Christ’s birth.

Essentially, every Advent celebration can be unique based on the elements of the Advent story itself. Bratcher listed several examples in “The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope.” After the first candle, which symbolises "hope," the next three weeks can be “Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels,” “John the Baptist, Mary, the Magi,” or “Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfillment.” The key is tying it back to the Advent through Scripture readings, prayers and the lighting of the candles.

Celebrating Advent can take place each night of the four-week period. For instance, you light the first candle on the first Sunday. Each night thereafter, you light the same candle and have a short devotional, Scripture reading and prayer. On the second Sunday, you light the first and the second candles. Again, during the following week, you light these candles followed by the devotional, Scripture reading and prayer. Follow this same pattern through the end of Advent.

Making your own Advent wreath is a simple process. Lilly recommends placing an evergreen wreath flat on a table and then setting the advent candles in candle holders, which are placed in a circle in the wreath’s center. You can then personalise it for your family.

“I love to add ribbon accents to the wreath together with my family,” said Lilly. “Give each family member a length of ribbon to tie into bows. Tuck each bow into the wreath to add colour, texture and personality. Pine cones or sparkly Christmas ornaments are another fast, easy and colourful accent to tuck into the wreath.”

Hanging evergreens

Celebrating the true meaning of Advent
(Evan Sklar/Botanica/Getty Images)

Another aspect of Advent is that many people decorate with evergreens, which are seen as symbols of eternal life. Including this Advent tradition also is easy.

“We love to add collections of candles on top of the mantle with fresh pine branches accented with ‘family’ bows and ribbons,” said Lilly. “Pine cones and ornaments are also easily grouped and tucked into the branches and add accents of colour and sparkle to the mantle.”

Tie your decor together by incorporating various tabletop containers with similar items to those on the mantle. “I love to fill glass apothecary jars and oversize trifle bowls or glass bowls with ornaments or metallic-painted pine cones (think copper, silver and/or gold) or even colourful Christmas cookies for fun, long-lasting holiday designs,” said Lilly.

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