Cross-Cultural Interaction, Holidays, Seasonal Activities

The symbolism of the advent wreath

One of my favorite Christmas decorations is the advent wreath.

Every year as a child, I would look forward to unwrapping my parent’s wreath, the one with all the angels carved around the edges. When Michael and I got married, a new advent wreath for our home was one of the first things I purchased.

I like advent wreaths not because they are particularly beautiful – although I’ve certainly seen a few stunning ones – but because of the symbolism they encompass.

A traditional advent wreath has 4 candles, each of which represents something different – hope, faith, joy, and peace.

During the four weeks of Advent, an additional candle is lit every week, symbolizing the increasingly nearer arrival of Jesus, the light of the world, to dispel the darkness.

Some denominations also associate people or places with these symbols.

The candle of hope is the “prophet’s candle,” to remind us that Jesus is coming. The candle of faith is the “Bethlehem candle,” to remind us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Week three, the candle of joy, is the “shepherd’s candle,” to remind us of the joy the world experiences at the birth of Jesus. Finally, the peace candle is the “angel’s candle,” to remind us of the message of the angels – peace on earth, good will toward men.

Traditionally, 3 candles are purple and one is pink. Purple is a liturgical color, which is used to signify a time of prayer and penance. Pink is often used in the church to symbolize joy, and so the pink candle is lit on the third week, the week of joy.

This only scratches the surface of the symbolism that can be found in the advent wreath. I’ll stop there though. The point of this article is not to bore you to death with historical tidbits from church liturgy, but rather to explain why I like the symbolism of the advent wreath so much.

There were other things, other traditions that we did every year as a family that I did not look forward to like I did our advent wreath. They were enjoyable, to be sure. But they didn’t carry the same weight in my little mind as the advent wreath did.


There is something special about traditions, to be sure. But there is something even more special, even more meaningful, about traditions that mean something. Traditions that help you tell a story, help you to remember important things or people. These are the types of traditions that stay with people a lifetime, the types of memories that stick for years and even decades.

You may have absolutely no interest in starting your own advent wreath tradition. That’s totally fine. But I encourage you to start some sort of significant tradition. Do something that’s meaningful to you, something that you and your children can look forward to every year because you understand the significance of it.

Do you already have a significant tradition? Tell me about it in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “The symbolism of the advent wreath

  1. Yes, I love our little advent wreath! And even more, its significance. Your comment about how it affected you as a child is a good reminder to parents during this holiday season. We don’t always know what sticks in our children’s hearts and minds…but we need to remember that our words and actions DO.
    Of course, there’s always grace when we flub up… lol
    Merry Christmas <3

  2. We have always set up our Crêche underneath our Christmas Tree as part of our decorating process. The symbolism of the Nativity scene is one that helps us to focus on the coming of Christ. I wrote about this a few years ago, and about the Living Nativity at our local church (unfortunately they no longer have this event). I think of the word Living as a verb, as in Living (the) Nativity

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