I love the tradition of the Advent wreath. It so totally packed with symbolism! It is such a great way to teach the children even more about God, Christ and the Christmas season.
The round shape stands for God's eternity. Like God, it has no beginning and no end.
The greens used to make the wreath are EVERgreen, and therefore unchanging, just like God.
The four candles symbolize the four centuries that man waited for the coming of our Savior.
Three of the candles are purple since Advent is a time of penance. It was because of our sinfulness that we needed a Savior, and so we must prepare ourselves through sacrifice and penance during Advent for Christ's coming at Christmas. However, we know that Christ HAS and IS coming again, and so our penance is a joyful one! We are joyfully anticipating and preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, as well as Christ's second coming. Therefore, one candle is pink to represent our joy.
On the first Sunday of Advent we light one purple candle. On the second Sunday of Advent, two purple candles are lit. On the third Sunday of Advent, which is called "Gaudete Sunday", we light the pink candle since "Gaudete" means "let us rejoice!" And then, on the fourth (and final) Sunday of Advent, all four candles are lit. The gradual lighting of the candles is a visible sign for us. We can see the light growing brighter the closer we get to birth of Christ, who IS the light of the world!
We usually make our own Advent wreath by gathering greens from our yard. I then have four silver candle stands on which I place the candles. I use to purchase taper candles, but since we light them every night, we burn through them so fast... So, I switched to pillar candles which will last all of Advent, and have been working great!
After dinner, on the first Sunday of Advent, my husband leads us in prayer as he blesses our wreath before we light the first candle. We use the blessing found in a great little book called Handbook of Prayers. (I just LOVE this little prayerbook!) You can also find the blessing here.
Each evening of Advent, before we relight the candles of our wreath, we say one of the following prayers, depending on which week of Advent it is:
The First Week
Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we pray Thee and come; That, defended by Thee, we may deserve rescue from approaching dangers brought on by our sins, and being set free by Thee, obtain our salvation. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
The Second Week
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Thine only-begotten Son, that through His coming we may be worthy to serve Thee with purified minds. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
The Third Week
Incline Thine ear to our prayers, O Lord, we beseech Thee; and make bright the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
The Fourth Week
Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we beseech Thee, and come; and with great power come to our aid, that, by the help of Thy grace, that sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.