As the story goes, in 1839, a Lutheran minister working at a children’s mission in Germany created a wreath out of the wheel of a cart. The minister placed 20 small red candles on the outer ring of the wheel and four larger white candles inside the ring, lighting the red candles on weekdays and the four white candles on Sundays as a way for the children to countdown the days until Christmas.
Advent wreaths were eventually fashioned out of evergreens, twisted together in a circle to symbolize continuous life across the seasons, from the death of winter to the new life of spring. Naturally, this earthly symbolism also points to the spiritual symbolism of newness and the promise of eternal life and salvation offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). The circular nature of the wreath, similar to a wedding ring or band, is further meant to reflect the unending love of Christ and eternal life offered through salvation.
Holly leaves, berries, and seeds are sometimes added to the Advent wreath as well. Holly leaves can be prickly and therefore used to represent the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’s head during his crucifixion. Berries, which are typically red, also point to Christ’s sacrifice and the blood shed for sins. Pine cones, seeds, and nuts are also placed within the wreath as a symbol and promise of new life. Together, the elements of the Advent wreath reflect the new life and eternal salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom we now celebrate.