Christmas time is filled with family traditions such as baking holiday cookies, building snowmen and decorating the Christmas tree. But for the Voyles family, one tradition is crafting an Advent wreath and placing it literally in the center of their daily life during the holiday season.
“Each night the kids alternate in whose turn it is to help Dad light the candle and then they alternate whose turn it is to blow the candles out,” Jessica Voyles said, pointing out the Advent wreath sits in the center of her kitchen table. “Our tradition is to light the candles and say the blessing.”
For Christians, the Advent wreath symbolizes the beginning of the church’s new year, which is the four Sundays before Christmas. Four candles signify the four weeks of Advent.
“It is the season in which we learn how to wait,” said Dean Taylor, interim rector of Grace Episcopal Church. “On the children’s level, they are learning how to wait for Christmas.”
To help children understand the season of Advent, Grace Episcopal Church spent their Sunday school hour on Dec. 1 constructing Advent wreaths.
“It’s a good way for the families to start the season off with focus,” said Melanie Couch, director of the children’s ministry at Grace Episcopal. “It gives us something tangible that represents Advent and represents what we are trying to keep in focus.”
Before building the wreaths, Couch said teachers used a wooden calendar explaining the church’s calendar year a week earlier. They then passed around an artificial version of the Advent wreath.
The children put their knowledge to use the first Sunday of Advent, which was Dec. 1. About 40 families arrived to design their own Advent wreaths for their homes, including the Voyles.
“It was my little boy and me,” Jessica Voyles said, noting her daughter and husband were unable to join in the family tradition. “It’s always festive event at Grace.”
To construct a wreath, families were supplied with candles and real greenery versus the artificial kind. Candles were set in a circle with greenery encompassing the base of the candles. And each Sunday during Advent, one new candle is lit.
Taylor noted three candles are usually purple or blue and one candle is pink.
“The third Sunday is a pink candle,” the Grace Episcopal rector said. “It is in honor of the Virgin Mary. That’s another symbol of her expectancy of her childbirth. It’s a reminder we are waiting for the birth of Christ.”
Taylor added most Episcopalians grew up with purple candles, but the color blue is on their vestments, on the altar and usually the candle colors.
“Blue is the color for serenity and contemplation and quiet preparation,” he said.
The color and number of candles, however, are a little different at other areas churches, including First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville.
Senior minister Bill Coates explained their candles are purple, which means kingly or royal to mark the coming of Christ the king. Each candle also has a meaning representing four characteristics: hope, peace, joy and love.
Coates added a large white candle is at the center of the four candles, which is lit on Christmas Eve.
“They are all visual symbols that demonstrate God’s coming into the life of Jesus,” he said.
Despite the mild differences, the birth of Jesus into the world is the central element of Christmas. Keeping that focus is why Christians must take time to prepare for his coming during Advent, Taylor said.
“That is the opposite of what our culture is at this time,” he said. “The culture with the commercials urges us to hurry, buy and consume, which leaves us exhausted. Advent calls for a quiet, prayerful preparation for Christmas.”
Therefore, he is encouraging his congregation to observe the season with the mantra: “Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent.”
That’s just what the Voyles are doing when they light their Advent candles.
“Each kid takes a turn in blessing and saying grace over the meal,” Jessica Voyles said. “They say their own thank you and I think that is sweet.”