BANGOR, Maine — Robert “Max” Pottle of Levant wasn’t exactly sure Sunday morning what Advent is, but he knew that at the end of it, “Baby Jesus is born.”
The 6-year-old was one of more than a dozen children who gathered in the undercroft of St. John’s Episcopal Church to construct Advent wreaths. Although a similar session was held last year with adults at the French Street church, Sunday was the first time in recent years that the children have fashioned them.
Adult members also had an opportunity this year to build Advent wreaths after Sunday’s 10 a.m. service.
The goal of having the youngsters make their own wreaths, according to Heather Souweine, director of Youth and Children’s Programs at St. John’s, was to allow them to talk at Sunday school and at home about what Advent is and why it is celebrated.
This year, the church mailed small Advent calendars and information about Advent wreaths with the prayers to be said and Scriptures to be read each week around the wreath to every family with children in the congregation.
Advent, which is Latin for “coming,” began Sunday for Western Christians. The idea behind the season of expectation is to be prepared for the commemoration of the birth of Christ and to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Advent begins on the Sunday that falls on or closest to Nov. 30, the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, and ends with the first evening prayer on Christmas Eve. It begins earlier, on Nov. 15, for Eastern Christians and includes periods of fasting similar to those observed during Lent.
Although now considered to be a Christian tradition, Advent is rooted in preparations for Saturnalia, a Roman festival honoring Saturn, and pagan winter solstice festivals, according to www.about.com.
The wreath can be traced to pre-Christian Germanic people, the Rev. William Saunders wrote on a Catholic Education Web site.
“In Scandinavia during winter,” the priest said, “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.”
Christians adopted the tradition in the Middle Ages and incorporated the circular shape and the use of evergreen boughs, both of which symbolize life. Today, it is most often used as a centerpiece at dining room and kitchen tables.
Traditionally, an Advent wreath contains four candles — three purple and one rose or pink. Purple dyes were so rare and costly that they were associated with royalty. Blue candles, representing the night sky before daylight returns, are also used.
Candles are lit each Sunday during Advent after a special prayer is said. The first, representing hope, is called the Candle of the Prophet and recalls the prophecies foretelling the coming of Christ, according to the Web site of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The second, symbolizing peace, is the Bethlehem Candle, for the town where Jesus was born.
The third, the rose-colored candle, represents joy and is called the Shepherd Candle in honor of the shepherds to whom the birth was announced. The fourth, symbolizing love, is the Angel Candle in remembrance of the angels who heralded Christ’s birth.
A fifth candle, which is white and often called the Christ candle, is placed in the center of the wreath and lit each night from Christmas until Epiphany, when the Magi visited the Christ child.
“It’s pretty fun,” Melissa St. Peter, 10, of Bucksport said Sunday at St. John’s as she used a piece of thin wire to attach a pine bough to a foam circle. “It’s a good way to prepare for God and Christmas because we have to celebrate Jesus’ birth.”
Prayers to be said around the Advent wreath:
• Week One — We light one candle, dear Lord, and set our sights on our one true hope, Jesus Christ, born to set us free from the hopeless condition we are in because of our sin. Shine on us with the hope of everlasting life. Amen.
• Week Two — Two flames now flicker, O Father, and our souls tremble with the good news that peace on earth will come to pass through the birth of Jesus, who is our Prince of Peace. Brighten the world with a spirit of unity. Amen.
• Week Three — We add the light of the pink candle this week, O God, the candle of joy. We rejoice that the celebration of your son’s birth is near. Surround us, we pray, with the happy glow of Christ’s precious presence with us. Amen.
• Week Four — All four candles now burn, dear Lord, and our hearts are burning within us with great love for you. Let our love for you spark a love for others that grows deeper every day. Light up our life and your love. Amen.
Source: Creative Communications for the Parish and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor.