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The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. The Advent Wreath is traditionally a Lutheran practice, albeit it has spread to many other Christian denominations.
It is usually a horizontal evergreen wreath with four candles and often, a fifth, white candle in the center. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible reading and prayers. An additional candle is lit during each subsequent week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit. Many Advent wreaths include a fifth, Christ candle which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom is observed both in family settings and at public church services.
The ring or wheel of the Advent wreath of evergreens decorated with candles was a symbol in northern Europe long before the arrival of Christianity. The circle symbolized the eternal cycle of the seasons while the evergreens and lighted candles signified the persistence of life in the midst of winter. Some sources suggest the wreath—now reinterpreted as a Christian symbol—was in common use in the Middle Ages, others that it was established in Germany as a Christian custom only in the 16th century.
Other evidence suggests that the Advent wreath was not invented until the 19th century. Research by Prof. Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath. During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 19 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America. Professor Haemig's research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.
In Medieval times advent was a fast during which people's thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ; but in modern times it has been seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach of the feast.
More recently, some Eastern Orthodox families have adopted an Advent wreath with six candles symbolizing the longer Christmas fast in Orthodox tradition, which corresponds to Advent in Western Christianity.
In Catholic churches, the most popular colours for the Advent candles are violet and rose, corresponding with the colors of the liturgical vestments for the Sundays of Advent. In the Western church, Violet is the historic liturgical color for three of the four Sundays of Advent: Violet is the traditional color of penitential seasons. Rose is the color for the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word meaning "to rejoice"--also from the first line of the traditional entrance prayer (called the Introit) for the Mass of the third Sunday of Advent. Rose-colored vestments are used on Gaudete Sunday, as a pause to the penitential spirit of Advent 
In Protestant churches it is more common to use four red candles (reflecting their traditional use in Christmas decorations) because rose vestments and decorations are not commonly used in Protestant churches. Blue is also a popular alternative color for both Advent vestments and Advent candles, especially in some Anglican and Lutheran churches. This is in keeping with the liturgical seasons; blue means hope and waiting, which aligns with the seasonal meaning of Advent. Other variations of the Advent wreath add a white candle in the center to symbolize Christmas, sometimes known as the "Christ candle." It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. White is the traditional festal color in the Western church. Four red candles with one white one is probably the most common arrangement in Protestant churches in Britain.
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