††††††††† Advent, a season of the Christian year, is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ.   This includes the four Sundays before December 25th, often beginning with the Sunday following Thanksgiving.   Many families are rediscovering the use of an Advent wreath in their homes for family worship.
Like the Christmas tree, the Advent wreath is of German origin, and probably had its beginning in pagan customs.  Its use in America was mainly Lutheran until the latter half of the 20th century.
††††††††† The simplest way to prepare an Advent wreath is to use four small candle-holders (the star-shaped glass ones are adequate) placed within or just outside a circular wreath. If evergreens are used, they should be changed often; the length of the candles should be watched carefully to eliminate the danger of fire. Artificial wreaths of plastic greenery often look lifelike and are safer. Styrofoam and paper should be avoided in making and decorating the wreath since both are flammable.
††††††††† The only decoration the wreath has (except for natural ornaments as pine cones and holly berries) should be a purple bow, which symbolizes penance.
††††††††† The entire Advent wreath is rich in symbolism. The circular wreath stands for eternity, and the evergreen is a symbol of eternal life. The wreath is also an ancient symbol of victory and glory, and thus symbolizes the reign of the coming King.
††††††††† The colors of the candles are also symbolic. Three of the candles are purple, the traditional liturgical color for Advent. Purple stands for penitence and preparation and thus is the color both for Advent and Lent. But purple is also the traditional color of royalty and reminds us during Advent that we are preparing for the coming of our King.
††††††††† The candle for the third Sunday in Advent is pink and is called the joy candle. (Some families and churches omit this custom and use purple candles throughout the season.) A tall white candle, symbolizing Christ, the Light of the world, is place in the very center of the wreath.
††††††††† Each Sunday of Advent, one more of the outside candles is lighted, until on the fourth Sunday all are burning. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the Christ candle is lighted. The four outside candles are replaced with new white candles, and these are lighted also. These are then used each Sunday in Christmastide (December 25 Ė January 6).
††††††††† The Christ candle may be saved and used as an Easter candle, to be lighted each Sunday during Eastertide (Easter Sunday and seven Sundays after.)
††††††††† Families can write their own brief worship service to use in connection with their lighting of the candles on their Advent wreaths. A particular theme can be assigned to each candle such as: the promise, forgiveness, hope, love, peace, joy, etc. In the earlier days of Advent, stress the darkness of the human condition for genuine repentance and renewed commitment. Later, shift to anticipation and celebration. Advent hymns, Christmas carols, and other hymns, especially chosen for their meaning, may be sung.
†††††††† Many families use this opportunity to begin setting up a nativity scene. For the first Sunday, they could place the empty stable. The second Sunday, they could set out Mary and Joseph in the stable or place them farther away, moving them closer each day. The third Sunday, they could set the animals in place. By the fourth Sunday, the shepherds could be put in position. On Christmas Eve, the babe and manger should be placed in the stable. After Christmas, the wise men could be started on their journey, arriving by the night of January 5.

RESOURCE: The Light Shines in Darkness by Donald G. Shockley.

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