About Advent

Here's a very brief overview of how the celebration of Advent began, along with some explanation of the wreath and candles: 

Advent: A Season of Hope and Expectation

Advent is a seasonal celebration that has its roots in one of the early celebrations of the eastern Church, in Syria and surrounding areas, during the 4th and 5th centuries. In those days, The birth of Jesus was celebrated on the day of Epiphany (January 6), which was also a day of baptism. In 490 A.D., Bishop Perpetuus of Tours called the Church to observe a period of fasting from November 11 to January 6, as a season during which baptismal candidates would prepare for their baptisms by learning the spiritual discipline of fasting.
By the middle of the sixth century, the Church in Rome had begun celebrating Advent over four Sundays, as a preparation for the celebration of the incarnation of Christ. Irish missionaries used the season more as a season of preparation for the second coming of Christ, and focused on penitence during Advent, a practice which influenced the European church for some time. But by the 12th century the Church at Rome had pretty much settled on a four-Sunday celebration in preparation for Christmas. (In some areas, there were six Sundays in Advent.)
In 2016, the first Sunday of Advent is November 27, which is the earliest date that Advent can begin, according to modern ecclesiastical calendars. Advent can begin as late as December 3, which means that every few years, the final Sunday of Advent is on December 24.
A common means of celebrating Advent in worship involves the use of a wreath of evergreen branches that surrounds five candles--one for each Sunday of Advent, and one for Christmas Eve. The predominant color for Advent is purple, which traditionally symbolizes penitence and fasting, but it is also the color associated with royalty, and Advent is a season of preparation to receive our King. Three of the weekly candles of Advent are generally purple, but on the third week, the week of the Shepherds' candle, we use a pink candle, to represent the joy of the Good News that was announced first to shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem.Different church denominations and traditions assign different meanings to each of the five candles. At Lawrence Free Methodist Church, we use the following designations for the Advent candles:
  • First Sunday: The Prophet’s Candle (purple)
  • Second Sunday: The Bethlehem Candle (purple)
  • Third Sunday: The Shepherds’ Candle (rose or pink)
  • Fourth Sunday: The Angels’ Candle (purple)
  • Christmas Eve: The Christ Candle (white)
Each worship service during Advent begins with the lighting of the candle for that particular Sunday, along with a reading or a passage of Scripture that speaks to the symbolism of the candle, and a prayer. In some cases, specific, relevant Christmas hymns or carols are also sung in observance of the Advent candle lighting and its meaning.
Some family Christmas traditions also include the use of a family Advent calendar of one type or another. Often the calendar is made with little doors or compartments that hold a candy treat or a small toy or trinket for children, one for each day of the Advent season leading up to Christmas Eve.