The Five Candles of Advent: A Comprehensive Guide

by Hyacinth

As the chilly winds of December herald the approach of Christmas, many Christians around the world enter into a period of reflection, anticipation, and preparation known as Advent. Derived from the Latin word “adventus,” meaning “coming” or “arrival,” Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Christian calendar. It is a time of joyful expectation, as believers prepare their hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ while also looking forward to his promised return.

The Advent Wreath

Central to the observance of Advent is the Advent wreath, a cherished symbol that adorns churches, homes, and public spaces during the season. The Advent wreath typically consists of a circular arrangement of evergreen branches, symbolizing the eternity of God and the continuous cycle of life. Its circular shape also represents the unending love and faithfulness of God.

Number of Candles

A distinctive feature of the Advent wreath is the presence of five candles. Four of these candles are placed around the circumference of the wreath, while the fifth candle is positioned in the center. Each candle holds its own significance, collectively representing the themes of hope, peace, joy, love, and the advent of Christ.

Candle Colors and Symbolism

The candles of the Advent wreath are often differentiated by color, each hue carrying its own symbolic meaning.

1. Purple Candles: Traditionally, three of the candles are purple, symbolizing penitence, preparation, and royalty. Purple is a color associated with repentance and reflection, reminding believers of the need to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christ. Additionally, purple has historically been a color of royalty, signifying the kingship of Jesus Christ.

2. Pink Candle: The third candle, often lit on the third Sunday of Advent, is pink or rose-colored. This candle represents joy and is sometimes referred to as the “Shepherd’s Candle,” signifying the joy that the shepherds experienced upon hearing the good news of Christ’s birth. Its distinctive color stands out amidst the purple candles, offering a moment of rejoicing amidst the solemnity of the season.

3. White Candle: Positioned in the center of the wreath, the white candle is often known as the “Christ Candle.” It symbolizes the purity and light of Christ, who is the center of the Advent season. White is a color of purity and holiness, representing the sinless nature of Jesus Christ and his role as the light of the world.

While the colors of the candles are generally consistent across Christian denominations, there may be variations in interpretation depending on specific traditions or cultural contexts.

Order of Lighting

The lighting of the Advent candles follows a prescribed sequence, with one candle being lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, along with the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

1. First Sunday of Advent: The first candle, often referred to as the “Prophet’s Candle” or the “Hope Candle,” symbolizes the hope of the coming Messiah. It serves as a reminder of the prophets of the Old Testament who foretold the birth of Christ.

2. Second Sunday of Advent: On the second Sunday, the first purple candle is lit again, along with a second purple candle. The second candle represents peace, reflecting the longing for peace in the world and the peace that Christ brings to the hearts of believers.

3. Third Sunday of Advent: The pink candle, symbolizing joy, is lit along with the two previously lit purple candles. This Sunday is often called “Gaudete Sunday,” derived from the Latin word for “rejoice,” emphasizing the theme of joy amidst the anticipation of Christ’s birth.

4. Fourth Sunday of Advent: The final purple candle, representing love, is lit alongside the other candles. This candle signifies the love of God as demonstrated through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.

5. Christmas Eve or Christmas Day: The Christ Candle, positioned in the center of the wreath, is lit to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise and the embodiment of hope, peace, joy, and love.

Additional Traditions

In addition to lighting the candles, many families and congregations incorporate other traditions into their observance of Advent. This may include daily devotional readings, prayers, or acts of service that help to deepen one’s spiritual journey and prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Advent wreath with its five candles serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of the season. As each candle is lit in succession, the light grows brighter, symbolizing the increasing anticipation and joy as Christmas draws near. Through the timeless traditions of Advent, believers are invited to journey together in faith, hope, peace, joy, and love, as they prepare to welcome the Savior into their hearts and homes once again.

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