It has become a yearly ritual that begins our preparations for Christmas. There is the jaunt out for greens, well-bundled against the wet and cold. Some years, windfall is easy to glean from the ground. In busy years, the search is done at night by flashlight, but I could probably do it blindfolded. Always cedar, fir, and juniper; sometimes pine, hemlock, or arborvitae, is gathered. I revel in the texture, shape, color, and smell that is unique to each.
In my husband’s warm, well-lit workshop the assembly begins. Small twigs of evergreens are overlapped, one by one, and wired together to form a long rope. Care is taken to alternate the types of greens for the best effect. When long enough, this evergreen rope is wired around the hard metal ring. Various cones, twigs or colored berries are sometimes added. A royal blue bow is attached just below each of four candle holders. I sometimes include gold ribbon; sometimes white lace ribbon to commemorate the Scandinavian heritage of our little church. It has been here for over one hundred years now. The candles are set in place and the completed wreath is slowly turned on its chain for the final straightening and balancing .
These wreaths have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe, where in the deep of winter people lit candles on wheel-shaped bundles of evergreen. Both the evergreen and the circle symbolized ongoing life. The candlelight gave comfort in this darkest time of year, as people looked forward to the longer days of spring. Later, European Christians adopted this practice and by the 16th century they were making what we know as Advent wreaths.
The circle of the Advent wreath symbolizes God’s love that knows no end. Since evergreens keep their “leaves” throughout the winter, they represent the promise of new life and the constant presence of God. I include various types of greens as a reminder of our diversity.
The light of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. The colors of the candles vary with different traditions, but there are usually three purple or blue candles, representing royalty and corresponding to the sanctuary colors of Advent. The fourth candle is pink or rose. Our blue candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays and represent hope, peace, and love. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday and represents joy. Some Advent wreaths have a white candle in the center called the Christ Candle. It is lit on Christmas Eve or Day and reminds us that incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.
In the early 1970s, Pastor Moore used his remarkable talents to weld, screw and paint the base for our hanging Advent wreath. If you take a close look, you’ll see that the candle holders are indeed constructed of turned wood, tart tins and salad molds!
I am only one of many in a long line of Vinland Advent wreath-makers. Over the years each person has collected and assembled the greens, added their own touches, and carefully placed the candles. Each has done it with love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”