A short liturgical season such as Advent can be easily lost in Australia amidst the pre-Christmas hype and end-of-year rush to the summer holidays. As such, its symbols, prayers and music can help us to hold on to this time of joyful expectation.
For many people, there is nothing more symbolic of Advent than the wreath; so much so that many people expect to find it in the church at this time.
The idea of the wreath began in Germany, and reflects its place in the northern hemisphere experience of Advent. The evergreen boughs and lit candles were reminders of life and light during the cold, dark winter, which is very different to our experience of Advent here in the heat of summer.
Still, the circle of greenery can remind us of the perfection of God and of God’s endless love. There are different traditions for naming the candles. One names them after ‘figures’ within the Advent and Christmas story, such as prophets, angels, shepherds, Bethlehem. Another tradition associates them with virtues such as hope, faith, joy and peace. Whatever the custom, the increasing light helps us mark the passing of the weeks leading up to Christmas, when we celebrate the entry of Christ, the light of the world, into our human existence.
Remember also that the Advent wreath’s adoption as a custom within Church celebrations is only a relatively recent phenomenon – it is also a wonderful custom to adopt in your home to continue the observance of Advent outside the liturgy with your family.