Advent wreaths are common in our houses at Christmas.
They are made from various types of evergreens with four candles equally spaced around the outside with a fifth in the middle; they form a traditional part of our festive decorations.
However, whilst we acknowledge their importance during the festive period, many of us are ignorant of their history and meaning.
There are many different opinions regarding the origins of the Advent wreath. Some believe that the Lutherans of East Germany in the 19th century were the first to use one whilst others believe that they date all the way back to the Middle Ages.
In Northern Europe, pagans used candles and fires to celebrate the month of Yule and to banish the gloominess of the long winter nights. The Christian church maintained many of these traditions and in the 16th century, the glowing lights became a religious symbol of Advent.
However, many people believe that the true origin of the advent wreath lies with a Protestant pastor named Johann Hinrich Wichern who worked at a missionary school for the poor.
Using an old cartwheel to stand 20 small red candles and 4 large white ones, the children of the mission were allowed to light one each day in the run-up to Christmas.
This custom grew and spread throughout German churches and has since evolved into the smaller wreath that we recognize.
Nowadays, the four candles that ring the outside of our Advent wreaths represent the four weeks of Advent itself. A fifth central large candle is added by many people during the week of Christmas.
Every Sunday throughout Advent, families traditionally gather together to light one of the candles.
When all four candles are burning together it is thought to symbolize the approaching day of Christ’s birth. The glow of the candles in an otherwise dark room symbolizes light, illumination and hope.
The shape of the wreath, in a never-ending perfect circle, is thought to symbolize God’s eternal love for humanity. Whilst the evergreens and candles that have been used from the very start show that no matter how hard the winter months have been life will continue.