As the days shorten, the nights lengthen, and the days until Christmas become fewer and fewer, we turn to the warmth and comfort of our homes and time spent with our closest family and friends. Sometimes, though, the holidays can feel more hectic than hygge-like, and it’s easy to forget the importance of Advent — time spent in prayerful, hopeful expectation of the birth of Christ.
As we reflect on how to “Bring Home the Hygge” in this message series, we’re also going to talk about the origins and history of certain Christmas traditions. Hopefully, it will help prevent (or clear) the “holidaze” that can creep in when we’re least prepared to deal with it. For the first Sunday of Advent, what better hyggelig (of hygge, or inducing particular feelings of hygge) tradition to discuss than the Advent wreath.
Historically a circle of evergreens with four candles nestled in the boughs, use of the Advent wreath dates back to pre-Christian Germanic peoples, who would use the light of the candles to chase out some of the pervasive Winter darkness. When the cold, lean winter months stretched on indefinitely, their candle-adorned wreaths were symbols of hope in the darkness. Evergreens signified the end of the darkness and the promise of Spring. By the Middle Ages, Catholics had adopted the tradition as well.
The four candles stand for the four weeks of Advent, one new candle lit each week. As Christ’s arrival gets closer and closer, the light grows stronger. Some say that each candle represents 1,000 years from the time of Adam and Eve to Jesus’ birth, 4,000 years in total. Each of the three purple candles represents the prayer, penance, good works, and sacrifices of the time spent in hopeful anticipation of Christ. On Gaudete Sunday (third Sunday of Advent), the pink candle is lit. It is the midway point of Advent, and we rejoice in the prospect of the Lord’s coming, as Christmas is close at hand.
Lighting the Advent wreath at home is the perfect way to remember the “reason for the season” each evening. The practice is simple — as one sits down to dinner, before or after grace is said, light the candles for the week (one purple for week one, two purple for week two, two purple and one pink for week three, and all candles for week four) and say a short prayer.
Dynamic Catholic, Loyola Press, and many others have free guides to Advent prayer, but to get started, here’s one of my favorites: “Heavenly Father, your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us, a great sign of your love. Guide us as we strive to walk in that love together as a family this Advent. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, bring us closer to each other and to your son. Give us the grace and strength we need every day. Help us to always trust in you. Come, Lord Jesus, lead all people closer to you. Come and dispel the darkness of our world with the light of your love. Amen.” (From Matthew Kelly, Dynamic Catholic).
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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