Variations in Form of the Advent Wreath

The season of Advent is now only days away and, as always, this particular season brings to mind the many customs that have developed around this time of the liturgical year, one of the most popular being the Advent wreath which originally arose in Germany in the 16th century. While we have touched on this subject before, today I wished to focus in on some of the different forms that Advent wreath has taken from the 19th century onward.

Within the English speaking world, North America in particular, the most common sight seems to be of Advent wreaths that include three violet coloured candles and one of rose, echoing the liturgical colours of each respective Sunday of Advent. (To this, some will also add a central white candle to be lit on the Feast of the Nativity.)

Within Germany, by comparison, where the custom of the Advent wreath originated, the custom has been and remains red coloured candles. (This is, apparently, also quite common within the United Kingdom.) Here are a couple of examples showing this manifestation of the Advent wreath:

However, even here, one must be careful not to generalize, for we can find other variations as well, such as the early 19th century Advent wreath of Johann Hinrich Wichern -- which some suggest to the be origins of our modern Advent wreath. This particular form had 23 candles in total: 19 red candles (to be lit on the weekdays of Advent) and 4 white (to be lit on the Sundays of Advent).

Speaking of variations in the number of candles, and given our readers interest in the various rites and uses of the Latin rite, I would be remiss to not share this Milanese version of the Advent wreath ("la corona dell’Avvento" as it is called within Italy). You will note that it includes six candles instead of the usual four. This is for the simple reason that in the Ambrosian rite Advent spans six Sundays, not four.

Beyond these examples, still other variations can be found in the colouration of the candles.

As for the wreath itself, since at least the 19th century the form is traditionally circular, being either suspended or placed upon a flat surface. What the wreath is itself made from also varies from place to place and would have necessarily been adapted to whatever was available in those particular locales. The common link, however, is some sort of greenery in a circular form -- which may or may not have additional decoration within it. Evergreen is quite common and traditional of course, as is other greenery such as holly and so on.  Here are a few examples of wreaths made from greenery which may be less familiar to you:

Of course, my reason for showing all of this is to provide a sense of the variations that exist around this custom, and also to emphasize that people who haven't had the time to source out violet and rose candles needn't be overly concerned; various traditional options exist.  The main thing -- in terms of the external form that is  -- is that whatever be done, it be done tastefully and qualitatively and follow the basic form seen here: a candle for each Sunday of Advent and a wreath made from some sort of greenery.

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