Posted: 03 December 2012

Looking backwards and forwards

Most Advent wreaths have four candles around the outside and some have a fifth in the middle. The tradition of the Advent wreath, indeed like the Christmas tree, probably comes from Northern Europe and it symbolises the growing anticipation as Christmas draws nearer.

On the first Sunday in Advent the first candle is lit, on the second Sunday the first and the second are lit and so on until all four candles are alight and if there is a fifth one that one it lit on Christmas day.

In some churches each of the candles symbolises something that helps us to focus our anticipation of Christmas. In a way each wreath is a little like a theological relay race, as the baton of faith is passed on from person to person.  So the first candle starts at the beginning of our journey of faith with our ancestors in the faith (like Abraham and Sarah) whose own faith played such an important role in the story of God’s people.  The second candle is often associated with the prophets who picked up the baton of faith and pointed onwards to God’s salvation of his people.  The third candle symbolises John the Baptist and the fourth Mary, who though much closer to the birth of Jesus than Abraham or the prophets each pointed onwards to Jesus’ birth.

Part of the symbolism of the Advent wreath, then, is not just a looking backwards towards those who came before Jesus but also looking forward.  As we light the candles on the wreath we remind ourselves that we, today, are called to pick up that baton of faith and to pass it on to all those who come after us.

By Paula Gooder


The Children’s Society is committed to helping children and young people in the here and now, but is also to creating a better society for generations to come. We have existed since 1881 and today we run children’s centres and services across the country that have a direct impact on young people’s lives in the here and now. We also have a vision of how things could be different in the future, and campaign to ensure that  children’s voices are heard when decisions are made that affect their lives.

We do this because we want to create a society where childhood is respected and all children are valued. Take a moment today to pray for our part in building a better future for our children.

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By Dr Paula Gooder - Guest bloggers

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Advent candles are a great way to focus on God's story with us humans...Like the picture of a relay race!