The season of Advent is an important time of great anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in the lives of Christians. Observing Advent helps us to make way in our hearts to receive the one true gift of the Christmas season – the gift of love that God gave His children when He chose to humble himself enough to walk this earth, to feel human emotions, and to eventually endure unspeakable suffering and death on a cross so that we might be delivered from the bonds of sin. As Christian parents seeking to raise children who are strong in their faith, it is important for us to make time to share the meaning of Advent with our children. One simple way to do this is to make an Advent wreath with your children.
An Advent wreath is a circle of evergreen boughs that reminds of God’s everlasting love – a love that has no beginning and no end. Four candles, three purple candles and one pink candle, are placed among the evergreen boughs in the Advent wreath. A fifth white candle stands in the center of the wreath. Here’s how to make and use an Advent wreath…
To make an Advent wreath, you will need…
An evergreen wreath, live or artificial (If using a live wreath, make sure to get a very fresh one from a reputable Christmas tree farm or florist – not a hardware superstore or supermarket. A dry wreath is a fire hazard.)
Three purple candles, one pink candle, and one white candle (a pillar candle looks best for the white candle). Try to use beeswax candles in your Advent wreath if you can find them. They drip much less and burn more cleanly than paraffin candles.
Five candleholders appropriately sized to hold the candles you have chosen for your Advent wreath (purchase simple plastic florist candleholders from a craft or florist shop, or use any other simple candleholders that can be securely fastened or placed among the wreath without risk of tipping). If you are using a pillar candle for your white candle, a small plate will suffice for this candle.
Simple adornments for the Advent wreath (pine cones, seed pods, a bow made of purple ribbon)
To make the Advent wreath…
Have the children help with as many of the steps as possible (an adult should check to make sure the candleholders are secure if a child is placing them in the Advent wreath).
First, if necessary, wire four of the candleholders to the Advent wreath. If this is not necessary (and it is only not necessary if you are using sturdy, heavy candleholders that are not at risk of tipping such as heavy glass or metal candleholders), simply place the four candleholders among the evergreen boughs in the Advent wreath. The candleholders should be placed at equal distances from each other among the Advent wreath. The fifth candleholder (for the white candle) is placed in the center of the Advent wreath.
Next, wire the simple adornments to the Advent wreath. The reason only simple adornments are used in an Advent wreath is that although Advent is a time of joyful preparation, there is also an element of penitence to the Advent season. As a result, the Advent wreath is kept simple to remind us of this.
Last, have the children place the Advent wreath candles in the candleholders (an adult should check to make sure the candles are secure in their holders).
To use an Advent wreath…
A candle is lit on each Sunday of Advent. Choose an Advent devotion book for families to share with your children. Read that Sunday’s devotion with your children just prior to lighting the Advent candle and offer a simple prayer just after lighting the Advent candle. Alternatively, you can light the Advent candles each night of the week, again reading that day’s devotion and offering a simple prayer with your children. Allow the children to participate as much as possible. Children who are able can read part or all of the devotion, other children can light the Advent candle (younger children can do this with help from an adult) or offer a prayer. The candles on the Advent wreath should be lit in the following order…
On the first Sunday of Advent, a purple candle is lit. This first candle in the Advent wreath is the Hope candle. This candle reminds us to thank God for the hope of salvation that we have in Jesus. If you are lighting Advent candles throughout the week, light only this candle until the second Sunday of Advent.
On the second Sunday of Advent, light the first candle as well as a second purple candle. The second purple candle in the Advent wreath is the Bethlehem or Preparation candle. This candle reminds us to make way in our hearts and lives to receive Jesus. If you are lighting Advent candles throughout the week, light both purple candles until the third Sunday of Advent.
On the third Sunday of Advent, light the first two purple candles as well as the pink candle. The pink candle in the Advent wreath is the Joy candle. This candle reminds us of the joy of receiving a Savior in Jesus, whose sacrificial love releases us from the bondage of our sin. If you are lighting Advent candles throughout the week, light the first two purple candles as well as the pink candle until the fourth Sunday of Advent.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, light the first three candles as well as the final purple candle. This last purple candle in the Advent wreath is the Love or Peace candle. It reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17). If you are lighting Advent candles throughout the week, light all of the candles except the center white candle until sundown on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
After sundown on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, light all of the previous candles as well as the white candle in the center of the Advent wreath. This last candle in the Advent wreath is the Christ candle and reminds us that Jesus is the pure and spotless Lamb of God, sent to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
An important note on Advent wreaths and safety: Make sure that you never leave the lit Advent candles unattended in the presence of children. Always extinguish the candles immediately after your Advent devotions or, if you are incorporating your Advent devotions into the evening meal, before the adults leave the table for any reason. If a live Advent wreath dries out, discontinue use of the wreath and replace it with a new one. The small inconvenience and cost of replacing the Advent wreath is worth the safety of your family.