Christmas wreaths are a common part of Christmas celebrations in most countries, but do you know what each of the four candles symbolizes? Can there actually be more than four candles? Where did this tradition come from? Or how you can make your own advent wreath? Don’t worry, all of these questions will be answered in this article.
Beginning of the Tradition
Even if you celebrate Christmas and know advent wreaths, there is a chance you may not know the history behind them. There are a few theories about their origin. One theory says that advent wreaths were inspired by Jewish Menorahs that are used during the celebrations of Hanukkah. According to another theory, Christians adopted this idea from Germanic pagans who lit up a fire in a green circle every winter to represent the Sun.
Either way, the modern advent wreaths have their origin in a very noble act. At the end of the 19th century, a Habsburg pedagogue and priest Johann Hinrich Wichern was teaching small orphans and decided to bring them some happiness during Christmas time. On November 30 he prepared a carriage wheel, decorated it with 23 candles symbolizing the 23 days until Christmas Eve, and had it hung up in the common dining room for everyone to see. People liked the idea and it didn’t take long for the first modern advent wreath to be displayed in a church in the German city of Aachen. This one was already decorated with only four candles – each symbolizing one week of advent. In the Czech Republic, then Czechoslovakia, they became popular circa between 1940s and 1950s.
The Four Candles for Four Sundays
As you already know, there are four candles on the advent wreath. Besides this, each one of them has a name. The first candle is called Hope and from this one, we continue to lit up the rest of the candles counterclockwise every advent Sunday. The second candle’s name is Peace, the third one’s name is Friendship and the last one is called Love. Most people, however, don’t know that a fifth (white) candle can be added into the wreath – this one represents Jesus Christ and is lit up on Christmas Eve. If you didn’t know this, don’t worry, as a stereotypical Czech atheist neither did I (until now). The whole wreath as such symbolizes eternity.
It is not only the candles that have names though. Each of the advent Sundays has its own name too. The first advent Sunday is called “The Iron Sunday” (“Železná neděle” in Czech) and the second one is called “The Bronze Sunday” (“Bronzová neděle”). The third Sunday is called “The Silver Sunday” or “The Pastoral Sunday” (“Stříbrná neděle” or “Pastýřská neděle”) and on this Sunday the Christian holiday called “Gaudete” is celebrated. Gaudete is also an antiphon and the name of a Medieval Christmas carol you may be familiar with; sometimes also known as “Gaudete, Christus est natus” (“Rejoice, Christ Is Born”; good thing I still remember some Latin). It is not a Czech carol though. The last Sunday before Christmas is called either “The Golden Sunday” or “The Angelic Sunday”.
Traditionally, the first three candles were purple because purple is the colour of nobility, contemplation, and repentance. Only the last candle, Love, was pink. In some social circles, different colours were used, though. For example, red representing the blood of Christ, and gold symbolizing the victory of good. No wonder that red and gold is one of the combinations we associate with Christmas the most.
Where Does One Get a Christmas Wreath?
Typically, advent wreaths can be bought at flower shops but some people make their own. Nowadays, you can also buy one online or, if you’re nifty, you can get creative and make one yourself too!
What are the materials you need? That depends on what kind of wreath you’d like to make. For the traditional type, you need a corpus (either made of polystyrene, straws, twigs or even paper), branches of some conifer, wire or a glue gun, and, of course, candles and also special candle holders if possible. These are, however, only the basic things. You can also add small Christmas ornaments, holly, ivy, bows and ribbons, some pinecones, and so on. Imagination has no limits, after all. As for the tools, you’ll need secateurs, scissors and probably a knife.
The first step is to cover the corpus with the branches and secure them in place with some wire and glue (glue only if necessary). Then add the four candles – you can use the candle holders to attach them to the corpus with branches or, if you don’t have the candle holders, simply attach a piece of wire on their bottom and stick them into the corpus. It’s also better to warm up the wire a little bit before sticking it into the candle. When this part is done, you can continue to add any more decorations you like.
However, not everyone feels like creating elaborate advent wreaths. The truth is that it’s not that easy and the first attempt at a nice wreath doesn’t always work out as intended. Fortunately, there are some modern alternatives – such as simply placing four candles in some nice candle holders or even decorated glasses and jars. The result is no less stylish.
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Source of the photos: Unsplash.com