Everything You Need to Know About the Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth and hope during Advent.

Advent candles.
Advent candles. (photo: Kara Monroe via Flickr / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))

During the holidays, Nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent — three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the Second Coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest also wears rose-colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding Our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” the USCCB says.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize the people and taught them that they should use a candlelit wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, to celebrate his nativity, and to beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric design that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth and hope during Advent. 

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the first Sunday of Advent or on the evening before.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family. To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide: “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.

This article was originally published on Nov. 21, 2021, and was updated Nov. 30, 2023.

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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