Q. What is the spiritual meaning of the Advent wreath?
A. The word “advent” means “coming.” In this season, our focus should be on the two comings of Christ to earth: as our Savior two thousand years ago, and as our Judge one day in the future.
The Advent wreath serves as a rich symbol of this season. The circle of the wreath, without beginning or end, reminds us of God’s eternity, the soul’s immortality, and everlasting life through Christ.
The evergreen branches also symbolize everlasting life. Some types used have additional, more specific meanings: Laurel represents the crown of victory that Christ will give to the faithful (Revelation 2:10). Cedar is a symbol of strength and healing. Pine, holly, and yew represent immortality.
Holly has additional symbolism: The spiny leaves recall Our Lord’s crown of thorns, and the red berries, the drops of His blood. One old English legend claims that the Cross of Christ was made of holly.
Sometimes pine cones, nuts, or seedpods are also used to decorate the Advent wreath. The seeds are symbols of new life and resurrection.
The four candles represent the four Sundays of Advent. One candle is lit on the First Sunday, two on the Second Sunday, and so on, symbolizing the progression of anticipation, preparation, joy, and hope that surrounded Christ’s first coming and now leads up to His second coming. Three are purple and one is rose (pink). Advent is traditionally a penitential season, and purple is the color of penance. It’s also the color of royalty, so it points to Christ as our King. Rose is the color of joy; the rose candle represents the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete (“Rejoice!”) Sunday.
The candles’ flames remind us that Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Some wreaths feature an additional white candle in the middle of the wreath that is lit on Christmas Eve in honor of the Christ Child.