Centuries ago, long before the birth of Christ, the wreath was always a part of festive processions. The evergreen wreath has always been a Christian emblem of eternal life and God’s faithfulness to all humanity because of its hardiness and ability to withstand the cold winter temperatures.
An advent wreath is a ring or set of four candles, usually made with evergreen cuttings and used for household devotion by some Christians during the season of Advent, or the holy season for the Christian church. Many churches illuminate these candles in succession through the four weeks leading up to Christmas as part of their Sunday services.
Typically, three of the candles are violet-colored, and one is rose-colored, but some choose to use all purple or all blue candles. When used in household devotion, one candle is lit on the first evening of Advent, which falls on a Saturday night. Each Saturday evening thereafter during Advent another candle is lit. Others light the candles on Sunday, rather than Saturday evening. Some wreaths have a large white candle in the center which is lit on Christmas Day to signify Christ’s birth.
The first Advent wreath was invented by Johann Hinrich Wichern; a Protestant parson in Hamburg, Germany in the 1830’s and 1840’s and was in charge of an orphanage. The children of the orphanage made a wooden ring and affixed red and white candles on one side of it. During each service of daily prayer a child would light one candle, until on Christmas Eve all of them would be illuminated. It is thought that children liked this ring so much that they decorated it with evergreen twigs, mainly from fir trees. Later the number of candles was reduced to the four main ones.
The tradition of hanging a Christmas wreath took a while to catch on in Germany. When German immigrants came to America, they brought this old tradition with them, and now it’s a household tradition for many families to have a wreath made from evergreen hanging upon the front door of their home.