By Becky Eldredge
The Advent wreath is a family tradition that began with my mom and was an integral part of our family’s celebration of Advent. I still remember the excitement I felt as a child when my mom would pull out our Advent wreath and place it on our dinner table. It symbolized to me that something important was happening. As a young child, it meant the countdown to Christmas and Santa could officially begin. In middle school and high school, I appreciated the way the Advent wreath kept our family’s focus on the reason behind Advent: counting down to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Each night during Advent, we ate a family meal together at our kitchen table. Before eating one bite of food, we paused and lit the Advent candle and read the daily Advent reflection. My brothers and I cherished the day it was our turn to light the candle.
When Chris and I got married, my mom lovingly passed to us the Advent wreath from my childhood. In those early years of our marriage, we were intentional about bringing traditions from both of our families into the new one we were creating. The Advent wreath remains a standing tradition in our family. On the first Sunday of Advent, we bless our Advent wreath with these words:
Lord our God, we praise you for your son, Jesus Christ:
He is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples, He is the wisdom that teaches us and guides us,
He is the savior of every nation.
Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May He come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Each night of Advent, we gather with our three children around the table for dinner, like we did when I was a child. Our children now take turns lighting the appropriate candle and say the prayer for the week. I hope one day they pass this tradition onto their own families.
This family ritual helps us find God in a busy Christmas season through the symbolism of the darkness of our world not being overcome. As we mark the weeks of Advent, I am reminded of the darkness in our world and the Light of Christ that was embodied in its fullness of the Incarnation. Watching the Advent candlelight dance and light up my husband’s and children’s eyes reminds me of the reason I can hope in the first place — because of the source of our hope, the Incarnation.
This Advent season, if you do not already own one, consider purchasing or creating your own Advent wreath. It is a beautiful way to ritualize the waiting we are doing in Advent to celebrate the light Jesus’ birth brings into our lives and to symbolize the hopeful waiting we are still doing as we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man. Once your wreath is assembled and put in its place of honor, offer a blessing for your wreath. During the first week of Advent, light the purple candle diagonally across from the pink candle. During the second week, light the purple candle next to the first one. During the third week, light the pink candle, and the fourth week, light the last purple one. On Christmas morning, light the white candle in the middle, symbolizing the great light that was brought into our world at Christ’s birth!
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Becky Eldredge is an Ignatian trained spiritual director passionate about inviting people closer to Christ through spiritual direction, writing, retreats and as founder of Ignatian Ministries, a virtual home of accompaniment. She is author of two award-winning books: “The Inner Chapel” and “Busy Lives and Restless Souls.” In her home state of Louisiana, as part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Spirituality Center teaching staff, Becky trains spiritual directors in the Ignatian tradition.