Symbols and Customs of Advent
Many people know the popular symbols and customs of Advent, such as the Advent wreath, but do you know their meanings and why we have them? Below is a list of some well known Advent symbols and the meanings behind them.
1. The Advent wreath is one of the best known symbols of Advent.
- Traditionally made of evergreen branches formed into a circle with 4 candles held within.
- The evergreen circle is a symbol of eternal life.
- Green from the evergreen is considered a symbol of hope.
- Started as a domestic tradition that entered into churches in the twentieth century.
2. Advent Candles are usually comprised of three purple candles with one rose or pink.
- The candles recall the weeks that pass until Christmas.
- Purple candles symbolize waiting, also penitential but not in the same way as Lent.
- Rose or Pink is used on the third Sunday of Advent to symbolize rejoicing, since the Third Sunday of Advent is referred to as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday.
- They are lit, light used as a symbol of Christ being the light of the World coming through the darkness.
- Sometimes a white candle is placed in the middle, people use when lit as the representation of Christ entering the world.
3. The Jesse Tree is named for Jesse the father of King David whose line can be traced to St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.
- Used as a symbol to explain the Old Testament generational connection between Adam, Abraham and Jesus as explained in Gospels Matthew and Luke.
- Popular symbols represent people of the Old Testament including King David as a crown and Noah as a boat.
4. An Advent house or Advent calendar show the passing of the days of the season.
- Popular with children, they serve as a way to provide activities and reflections on the season to draw them deeper into the faith. December 24th is usually a scene of the Nativity.
- Used as a visual tool of preparation and patiently waiting for Christ to come into our lives.
5. The Giving Tree is a variation of the Jesse Tree that became popular in the late 20th century.
- The custom has communities decorate a tree with tags indicating gifts for children in need at Christmas.
- Intended to remind Christians of the teaching of Jesus “what you do to the least of these, you do to me” (Mt. 25:40)
6. Nativity scene or Creche is used to commemorate the humble birth of Christ.
- Created by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century to emphasize the humility of the Savior of the World coming as a poor child.
- There are many different designs and themes used, including stone or wax figurines, as well as human and animal actors.
- In some locations a variation is included that has the manger empty until Christmas Eve as a celebration of Christ’s arrival as a child.
- Culturally, certain countries will change the look of the Creche, including more towers, houses, mountains, than what was traditionally used during the 13th Century.