Advent Wreath: Meaning, Symbolism, Purpose of Advent Candles

Advent is a seasonal tradition often celebrated in the Christian faith to prepare for the arrival or coming of Jesus Christ. The advent wreath is used to symbolically commemorate newness, eternal life, and the death and resurrection of the promised Messiah.

Contributing Writer
Updated Dec 11, 2023
Advent Wreath: Meaning, Symbolism, Purpose of Advent Candles

You've probably seen circles of evergreen hanging on doors and maybe on the dinner table with candles around the Christmas season. Discover the meaning of these Advent wreaths and how they're used today!

What is an Advent Wreath?

The Advent wreath is one of the most symbolic traditions for the season of Advent. With its colorful candles lit on each of the four weeks of Advent, the wreath is a reminder of the hope and joy coming. Advent wreaths are not exclusive to churches; many families and individuals have an Advent wreath at home and observe the tradition of lighting the candles for each Sunday. 

Let's take a look at the meaning of Advent and what each of the candles represents for the Sundays of Advent.

The History of Advent

Advent traditions will vary by country, but the heart behind Advent is mostly the same across cultures and denominations. Derived from the Latin word “adventus,” the word advent means “arrival” or “coming.” In this instance, it is used to indicate a set time(s) during the month of December to commemorate the coming of the Messiah in Jesus Christ. Advent, like Christmas, is a season of expectation, celebration, and hope connected to the birth of the prophesied Messiah and the promise of Christ’s subsequent ministry.  

A few historical accounts put the inception of Advent as a church tradition somewhere around the 4th or 5th century. Other traditions use Advent to anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ, which has yet to transpire. However, most of what we know and practice today can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the 19th century. In 1851, the first mention of an Advent calendar was seen in Elise Averdieck’s picture book, and in 1839, the Advent wreath first appeared.  Learn more about the history and traditions of Advent.

Advent Wreath Meaning

Circular Shape: The circular shape of the wreath represents the eternal nature of God—His never-ending love, mercy, and faithfulness. It also symbolizes the unending cycle of seasons and the continuous nature of time.

Evergreen Branches: Evergreen branches, which do not lose their leaves in winter, represent the everlasting life found in Christ. They are a symbol of hope and renewal, pointing to the promise of eternal life through Jesus.

Lighting of Candles: The lighting of the candles is an important tradition during Advent. Each week, an additional candle is lit to symbolize the increasing anticipation and preparation for the arrival of Jesus. The light from the candles represents the light of Christ coming into the world.

The Advent Candles Symbolism

In almost all Advent traditions, lighting candles is also a prominent feature of each week’s commemorative celebration. Some candles are placed within or near the Advent wreath itself. Other times, they are lit separately on each Sunday beginning four weeks before Christmas. Candles and the light they produce reflect the light that came into the world with the arrival of Jesus Christ. 

Some traditions light a single candle on each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas. Other traditions place one large candle in the center of the Advent wreath and light it every day of December until Christmas. 

The most common tradition, however, typically uses four candles. Each advent candle is lit on one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In some churches and homes, a 5th candle that is larger and white is lit to represent Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

What are the Four Weeks of Advent?

Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (the Sunday closest to November 30).

First Week of Advent:

  • Light the first candle of your Advent wreath on Sunday, December 3, 2023.
  • Theme: Hope (Hope Candle or Prophet's Candle).

Second Week of Advent:

  • Light the second candle of your Advent wreath on Sunday, December 10th, 2023.
  • Theme: Peace (Peace Candle, Love Candle, or Bethlehem Candle).

Third Week of Advent:

  • Light the third candle of your Advent wreath on Sunday, December 17th, 2023.
  • Theme: Joy (Joy Candle or Shepherd's Candle).
  • Special Name: Gaudete Sunday, emphasizing rejoicing.

Fourth Week of Advent:

  • Light the fourth candle of your Advent wreath on Sunday, December 24th, 2023.
  • Theme: Peace (Peace Candle).

Additionally, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25th, which marks the culmination of the Advent season, and the central Christ Candle on the Advent wreath is typically lit on this day to symbolize the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World.

What are Advent Wreath Candle Colors?

Advent candles have meaning and symbolism for the Christian holiday season. The most common tradition typically uses four candles. Each advent candle is lit on one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. 

The color of these candles can vary, but it is common for the first, second, and fourth candles to be purple, while the third is rose-colored, red, or a pinkish hue. In some cases, all the candles are red, blue, or white; often, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle of the wreath and lit on Christmas Day itself. Catholic tradition even states that the four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, each stand for 1,000 years to total the 4,000 years from Adam to the birth of the Messiah.

To learn more, read: Why are the Advent Candle Colors Purple, Pink, and White?

Advent Wreath History

As the story goes, in 1839, a Lutheran minister working at a children’s mission in Germany created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. The minister placed 20 small red candles out of the wheel's outer ring and four larger white candles inside the ring, lighting the red candles on weekdays and the four white candles on Sundays as a way for the children to count down the days until Christmas.   

Advent wreaths were eventually fashioned out of evergreens, twisted together in a circle to symbolize continuous life across the seasons, from the death of winter to the new life of spring. Naturally, this earthly symbolism also points to the spiritual symbolism of newness and the promise of eternal life and salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). The circular nature of the Advent wreath, similar to a wedding ring or band, is further meant to reflect the unending love of Christ and eternal life offered through salvation. 

Holly leaves, berries, and seeds are also added to the Advent wreath. Holly leaves can be prickly and, therefore, used to represent the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion. Berries, which are typically red, also point to Christ’s sacrifice and the bloodshed for sins. Pinecones, seeds, and nuts are also placed within the wreath as a symbol and promise of new life. Together, the elements of the Advent wreath reflect the new life and eternal salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who we now celebrate.

Prayers and Readings for Lighting the Advent Wreath Candles

Here are some traditional prayers and readings for lighting the Advent wreath candles. The carefully chosen readings and prayers associated with each candle, representing hope, love, joy, and peace, serve as a powerful reminder of the profound themes of the Advent season. 

Advent Wreath Blessing

You can use this simple blessing to consecrate your Advent wreath at the beginning of the Advent season.

O God, as we gather around this Advent wreath, we ask for Your blessings upon it. May the light of these candles remind us of the hope, love, joy, and peace that Christ brings into the world. May our hearts be prepared to receive Him this Advent season. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

First Sunday of Advent Candle: Hope

The first advent candle is purple and symbolizes hope. Also known as the “Prophecy Candle” in memory of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, who prophesied the birth of Christ. It symbolizes the anticipation felt in awaiting the coming Messiah. The color purple is often associated with this candle. Purple is a liturgical color that symbolizes penance, preparation, and royalty. It serves as a reminder of the need for repentance and readiness for the coming of the Messiah, who is the King of Kings.

The first candle, the Hope Candle, symbolizes the hope of God's people as they awaited the arrival of the Messiah, who would bring salvation, redemption, and the fulfillment of God's promises. It represents the hope that Jesus' birth would bring light to a world shrouded in darkness and despair.

During the lighting of the first candle, it is common to read scriptures and passages from the Bible that emphasize the theme of hope, such as prophecies from the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah, like Isaiah 9:2-7 or Isaiah 60:1-3. The lighting of the Hope Candle in the Advent wreath is an opportunity for individuals and families to reflect on the concept of hope in their own lives. It is a time to consider the hope found in the promise of salvation through Jesus and how that hope can bring joy and comfort during challenging times.


 "O God, as we light the first candle of this Advent wreath, we open our hearts in hope. May the light of this candle remind us of the hope we have in you. May it inspire us to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, our hope and our Savior. Amen."

Second Sunday of Advent Candle: Peace

The second Advent candle is also purple and symbolizes peace. Also known as the “Bethlehem Candle,” signifies Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Sometimes the second week's candle is used to symbolize faith. The Peace Candle symbolizes the peace that Jesus Christ brings to the world. It represents the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah who would be the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). It reminds us that through the birth of Jesus, humanity can find reconciliation with God and experience inner peace. During the lighting of the Peace Candle, appropriate Bible verses that emphasize peace and reconciliation may be read, such as Isaiah 9:6, Luke 2:14, or John 14:27.


"Gracious God, as we light the second candle of this Advent wreath, we seek your peace. In a world filled with turmoil, may the light of this candle remind us of the peace that only you can bring. Help us to be instruments of your peace in our homes, communities, and the world. Amen."

Third Sunday of Advent Candle: Joy

The third Advent candle is pink and represents joy. This candle is pink because the rose color represents joy, also known as the “Shepherd’s Candle.” The third Sunday of Advent is meant to remind us of the world's joy at the birth of Jesus and that the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent. The third week of Advent is often known as "Gaudete Sunday," derived from the Latin word "gaudete," which means "rejoice." It is a time of rejoicing and heightened anticipation as Christmas draws nearer.

The Joy Candle represents the joy that filled the hearts of the shepherds who received the news of Jesus' birth from the angels. It signifies the happiness and excitement of the world as it receives the long-awaited Messiah. During the lighting of the Joy Candle, passages from the Bible that emphasize joy and rejoicing may be read, such as Luke 2:10-11, which describes the angelic announcement to the shepherds.


"Loving God, as we light the third candle of this Advent wreath, we rejoice in your presence. May the light of this candle fill our hearts with the joy of your salvation. Help us to share this joy with others, spreading your love and happiness to all we encounter. Amen."

Fourth Sunday of Advent Candle (Love): 

The final Advent candle color is purple and marks the last week of Advent as we anticipate the birth of our Savior. This final candle, also known as the “Angel’s Candle,” signifies love. It reminds us of the angels' message: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” (Luke 2:14). During the lighting of the Love Candle, passages from the Bible that emphasize love, such as John 3:16-17 or 1 John 4:9-11, may be read. These verses highlight God's love for humanity and the call for believers to love one another.


"Heavenly Father, as we light the fourth candle of this Advent wreath, we are reminded of your boundless love. May the light of this candle shine forth as a symbol of the love you have shown us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Fill our hearts with your love, and help us to love one another as you have loved us. Amen."

In most traditions, the lighting of the four advent candles (or multiple candles) is meant to be done as a family and will often be used to reflect on the hope, faith, joy, peace, light, and purity that came into the world with the gift of the Messiah. Families will typically light the candle together, often encouraging children to participate in the celebration. Many modern churches light an Advent candle during Sunday services to prepare for Christmas as a church family.

Regardless of specific Advent traditions and differences in how it is celebrated across cultures and countries, Advent is a time for all believers and families to commemorate the arrival of the Messiah, prepare for his second coming, and celebrate the joy of Christmas together. 

Get your FREE copy of 25 Days of Advent Devotionals and Readings! Print these and share them with family and friends to keep your mind's attention and heart's affection on Jesus this holiday season.

Read more Advent Wreath Prayers for Lighting the Candles

Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s and young adult author who teaches writing and communications at Life Pacific University. As a former youth pastor, he has a heart for children and young adults and is passionate about engaging youth through writing and storytelling. His blog, Perspectives Off the Page, discusses the creative and spiritual life through story and art.

Photo credit:sparrowstock

This article is part of our larger Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ!

What Is Advent: Definition & Meaning Behind Christmas Tradition
Advent Bible Verses
Advent Readings
Advent Wreath and Candles Meaning and Symbolism
Advent Prayers

Advent Week 1: The Candle of Hope ~ First Sunday of Advent Prayers and Readings
Advent Week 2: The Candle of Peace ~ Second Sunday of Advent Prayers and Readings
Advent Week 3: The Candle of Joy ~ Third Sunday of Advent Prayers and Readings
Advent Week 4: The Candle of Love ~ Fourth Sunday of Advent Prayers and Readings


Christianity / Life / Holidays / Advent Wreath: Meaning, Symbolism, Purpose of Advent Candles