Why do we light Advent candles?
Advent marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year. Advent spans 4 Sundays and the weekdays that lead up to the celebration of Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation. We prepare our hearts and minds for the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. The use of the wreath and candles during Advent are a longstanding tradition. Indeed, some of the first mentions of celebrating Advent can be found in ancient writings from the Sixth Century.
Lighting a candle each week while reciting an Advent devotional helps to guide us in our journey through the season. Each week, we mark one of the ways Christ is the light of the world by lighting a candle and enjoying Advent candle liturgy.
If you are looking for ideas on how to start an Advent tradition with your family, click here.
Why do we use an Advent wreath?
The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, which is made of various evergreens fashioned into a circular shape, signifies continuous life. Circles, of course, have no beginning or end. This can be thought of as a symbol of not only the eternity of God, and the immortality of the soul, but also the everlasting life we find in Christ.
How do you arrange the wreath and candles?
The candles have their own special meaning. While traditions for Advent wreaths and candles vary, the most common arrangement is for four candles to be placed in a circle within the wreath. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday.
A fifth candle, often called the Christ candle, is placed in the center of the arrangement. In most traditions, this candle is lit during Christmas Eve worship.
The colors of the candles can also vary according to faith tradition. For example, within the Catholic faith, three of the candles are purple because the color violet is a liturgical color that signifies a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice. One candle is pink. We’ll explain more on that in a bit. In other faith traditions, Advent candles can be blue or red. Click here for guidance on how to create an Advent wreath tradition that you will cherish.
We have worship media that reflects varied color schemes for Advent candles.
What do the 5 Advent candles represent?
The first candle of Advent symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation felt in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
Suggested Advent Candle Readings for the Hope Candle:
Isaiah 9:3, 6-7
Isaiah 2: 2-5
Romans 13: 11-14
The second candle represents love (or faith). It is sometimes called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
Suggested Advent Candle Readings for the Love Candle:
Isaiah 40: 3-5
Psalms 72: 18
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Luke 1: 26-38
The third candle is sometimes pink and symbolizes joy. In some traditions, it is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.”
Suggested Advent Candle Readings for the Joy Candle:
Matthew 2: 10-11
Psalms 146: 5-10
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Luke 2: 8-14
Why is the third candle sometimes pink?
The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent. Using a pink candle for this Sunday is a tradition rooted in the Catholic faith, but churches of other faith traditions have adopted it, as well.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the peace candle to mark the final week as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, the sometimes called “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
Suggested Advent Candle Readings for the Peace Candle:
John 3: 16-19
Isaiah 7: 10-14
Luke 2: 8-20
The white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Eve. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ. The color white is for purity—because Christ is our sinless, pure Savior.
Suggested Advent Candle Readings for the Christ Candle:
John 1: 14
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Luke 2: 1-40
Advent Candle Liturgies
Andrew Gabriel shares the experience of his own family as they try to mark Advent with a weekly candle lighting at home. He’s posted a set of Advent Candle Lighting Readings that include questions for discussion each week. You can download them here. We especially like that he’s included text appropriate for young children.
For communities of faith that want to infuse their Advent experience with elements of social justice, these resources are ideal. Christian Peacemaker Teams has developed a set of Advent Candle Lighting Readings – in both English and Spanish – as well as complimentary informational text your church could insert into a bulletin, or post on your website.
In addition to the weekly candle lighting reading, they also offer links to various social justice organizations to help your church take action that alignments with each week of Advent.