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How to make and use an Advent wreath

Martin Luther had a number of ideas for things that people could do at home to teach the catechism to their children. He certainly didn’t invent the wreath itself, because that goes back to ancient Roman times, and probably even earlier. People used wreaths as an Advent decoration long before Luther, but Luther may have used the wreath as a Christian-education device and thus popularized it. I suspect he had a hand in it because the Advent wreath in its present form started in Germany as a Lutheran family custom. Since Advent wreaths were originally used in the home, most of the ones you find for sale are small. They didn’t become popular in churches until the middle of the twentieth century. Now they are nearly universal.

You can make an Advent wreath with either four or five candles.

How to Make an Advent Wreath

To begin, put four candles on a wreath or at least in a circle. Traditionally the candles are purple, because in antiquity, purple dye was very expensive and it was the color of royalty. We use purple for Advent because it is the season of the coming of the King. If you can’t get purple candles, you can substitute blue ones. You can also make one of the candles pink if you like—technically, it is rose colored. If you have a fifth candle, it goes in the center of the wreath and it should be white. For the best appearance, make sure that all the candles are the same height, except the white one, which should be a little taller.

Picture of an Advent wreath

If you’re curious about the use of color in worship, you can read more about colors.

Here are the five candles and their symbolism:

First Candle
Color: Purple
Theme: Hope
First Sunday in Advent
Second Candle
Color: Purple
Theme: Love
Second Sunday in Advent
Third Candle
Color: Purple or pink
Theme: Joy
Third Sunday in Advent
Fourth Candle
Color: Purple
Theme: Peace
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Optional Center Candle
Color: White
Theme: Christmas
Christmas Day

What the Advent Wreath Means

Historically, the candles have no more meaning than a countdown. That is, they originally stood for 4, 3, 2, and 1. However, people like for things in the church to have symbolic meanings, so the candles have gradually acquired the meanings I gave you above. If someone in your church tells you that the candles have some other meaning than Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, they aren’t wrong, they are just different. The meanings are so new that they aren’t completely standardized.

In some locations, the third candle is pink, in others the fourth candle is pink; in still others, all four candles are purple. The purple candles are lit during Advent, when the liturgical color is purple, and the white candle is lit on Christmas Eve (that is, after sundown), when the liturgical color is white. So that explains the colors of the purple and white candles—they just match the liturgical decor. But what about the pink candle, if there is one?

The pink candle is becoming more and more popular, but it has a strange origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fifth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third candle of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn and the pope no longer has the custom of giving out roses. It is kind of odd to think that a Methodist would put a pink candle in a Lutheran Advent wreath because the pope used to have the custom of giving out roses, but sometimes we’re a little more ecumenical than we realize!

Remember, if 24 December is a Sunday, it is the Fourth Sunday in Advent until sundown, at which time it becomes Christmas Eve. (Eve means evening, after all!)

How to Use Your Advent Wreath

The idea is to use the wreath in conjunction with worship services or personal or family devotions on the four Sundays in Advent. You light candles at the beginning of each service and snuff them out at the end.

If you have a fifth candle in the center, then on Christmas Day you light the four candles in the order you lit them before, and then you light the center candle. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.

You notice how I emphasize snuffing out the candles at the end of each service? This has absolutely no liturgical significance whatsoever, but it is vitally important and you must not leave it out. It prevents the candles from burning your house down.

I recommend that you snuff out the candles, rather than blowing them out. The reason is that if you blow them out, you might spray hot wax over everything.

Prayers for Use With the Advent Wreath

When you use an Advent Wreath in personal or family devotions, you can use whatever scriptures and prayers you like. If you need a point of departure, here is something to get you started. Please don’t take it as a set form. You can use different readings, you can modify the prayers, and you can add hymns, carols, or other prayers as you like.

On the first Sunday in Advent

On the second Sunday in Advent

On the third Sunday in Advent

On the fourth Sunday in Advent

On Christmas Eve after sundown or on Christmas Day
(if you have a fifth white candle in the center)

You can download a printable version of this page to use as a hand-out or a bulletin insert.

You can also read a Belarusian translation of this page.
(Belarusian is the language of Belarus.)