The origins of the advent wreath are found in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who, during the cold December darkness of Eastern Europe, gathered wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. By the Middle Ages, Christians used wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The wreath itself is usually made of pine or cedar sprigs which are drawn into a circle symbolizing God’s eternity. Affixed to the wreath are four candles; three purple and one rose or pink, which are lit one on each of the four Sundays. The rose candle anticipates and symbolizes
the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: Rejoice (Latin, Gaudete). For this reason the Third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and rose colored vestments are often used.

Sometimes a fifth white candle is placed in the center of the circle and is lit on Christmas Eve. The wreath has always been a sign of glory and victory while the light from the candles, gradually increasing every week, symbolically dispels the darkness. As the candles burn, they visibly mark the passing of time until Christmas Day.

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