The use of the wreath and candles during Advent are a longstanding Catholic tradition that was originally adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas.
The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, which is made of various evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ.
Even the individual evergreens that make up the wreath have their own meanings that can be adapted to our faith. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. The pine, holly, and yew signify immortality and the cedar signifies strength and healing. The pine cones that decorate the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole is meant to remind us of both the immortality of our souls and God’s promise of everlasting life to us through Christ.
The candles also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and one candle is lit each Sunday. Three of the candles are purple because the color violet is a liturgical color that signifies a time of prayer, penance, and sacrifice.
The first candle, purple, symbolizes hope and is sometimes called the “Prophets Candle” recalling the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation felt in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
The second candle, also purple, can be called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
The third candle, pink which symbolizes joy, is sometimes called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent.
On the fourth week of Advent, the final purple candle marks the final week of prayer and penance as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, can be called the “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizing peace and reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on earth, good will among people.” (from mercyhome.org)