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Rev. Leo A. Walsh, S.T.D. Answers:
The church has never shied away from appropriating signs, symbols and rituals from the culture in which it finds itself and “baptizing” them, so to speak, and giving to them a Christian meaning. Christ himself did this in his own public ministry, using the rituals of his day and giving them new meaning in the order of Grace. Two obvious examples are his transformation of the ritual of baptism from a simple act repentance into the first rite of initiation into Church and his transforming of the Passover Meal into the Eucharist on Holy Thursday.
According to Fr. William Saunders at the Catholic Education Resource Center, “there is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth. By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.” Go to: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0132.html for more information.
The Advent Wreath is a wonderful tradition which helps us to prepare for Christ’s coming in glory, even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming in humility.