During the holiday season, most families observe some type of tradition. Some traditions are unique to an individual’s family. Other traditions are more universally celebrated. Yet, in both cases, the origin of those traditions is often in doubt. Why? Because most traditions don’t begin overnight; rather, they come about over the course of several years. And so, by the time something has become a tradition, the story of its beginning can be lost.
Such is the case with one of the traditions of Advent. The season of Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. Advent is a time that we focus on the coming of our Savior; since the word “advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming.”
One of the most common traditions of Advent is the Advent Wreath. Yet, like many traditions, the exact origin of the Advent Wreath is lost to history. However, that hasn’t stopped people from suggesting possible ways that this tradition came to be. The best theory I have heard suggested that “Advent wreaths originated in the colder climates of Northern Europe. Men would remove the wheels of horse-drawn carriages just before winter set in, when snow and muddy conditions would make such travel difficult. The wheels were brought inside, and possibly placed up in the rafters of houses. Eventually the muddy wheels were decorated with evergreen boughs, then candles, and voila—the origins of the Advent wreath at the time of the year just before Christmas.”
Today Advent wreaths typically have five candles. Four candles are placed around the outer part of the wreath and one is placed in the middle. Throughout the season of Advent, the outer candles are lit. One candle is lit the first week. Each successive week another candle is lit so that as we draw closer to Christmas, the Advent wreath gives off more light.
As each week passes, the light grows brighter as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. How does light help us think about Jesus? Consider what Jesus said about himself in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
And so, as the light grows brighter, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the coming of our Savior through his birth in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, when we gather to remember our Savior’s birth, all the Advent candles are lit, including the center candle, known as the Christ candle, reminding us that Christ (the Light of the World) has come. Just as the Prophet Isaiah predicted 700 years before Jesus’ birth, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness…For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6).
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