A Blessed Advent to everyone! Although the first week of Advent always sneaks up on us, we were somewhat prepared this year. At this point we have established several family customs for the Advent season, including the traditional Advent wreath.
The origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain, although most seem to trace it back to 19th century Germany. What seems clear is that, like so many Catholic feasts, the use of the Advent wreath can be linked to the seasons. Even in pre-Christian Scandinavia, for example, a circular wheel would be decorated with candles to symbolize the gods turning the wheel of the Earth back toward the sun for warmth and longer days. With the dawn of Christianity, this already beautiful symbolism is enriched and deepened. Not only do we long for warmth and the return of the sun (unless you live in Phoenix, of course), but we yearn at the core of our innermost being for the Light of the World, Christ.
The traditional Advent wreath is decorated with various types of evergreens, including pine, laurel, holly, yew and cedar. We used pine branches this year as in years before. This year I want to add a new dimension to our Advent wreath custom and add a bit of new greenery each week when we light a new candle. As of right now, the wreath is made of pine branches with four small pinecones. Next week I plan to add a bit of holly. The four candles are lit on each of the four Sundays of Advent, with the pink candle reserved for the third Sunday, also known as Gaudete Sunday.
The Advent wreath is a beautiful way to anticipate that coming and stir up the longing for Christ in our souls. Incidentally, in fact, the first Sunday of Advent used to be known as "Stir-Up Sunday." Families would spend all day preparing the Christmas pudding or mincemeat so that the flavors could mix and deepen by Christmas. We haven't adopted this custom in our family as of yet, although I'm sure we will in future years when we have more tummies at the table and cooks in the kitchen. Our celebration is very simple: we have a feast. We begin the dinner with the lights off and bring the Advent wreath to the table (unlit, of course). Then Papa says this blessing: