Taking Stock: Advent Wreath and Candles

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Oct 23, 2015

Update 2017: The Dominican Sisters in Summit, NJ are no longer taking any internet or phone orders for their candles)

This is not to ensue panic, but Advent begins November 29, the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. That is in less than 6 weeks or 6 Sundays from now.

Do you know where your Advent wreath is? And more importantly, do you have Advent candles and KNOW where they are?

I was grateful to my friend Jessica’s post on Advent candles. It was a great reminder to check on the state of my Advent candles. I haven’t tried the candles from the Dominican Sisters, and this year I needed a new supply. I ordered from the Sisters and received mine this week. I thought I would talk a little about the Advent wreath and candles from my perspective.

Contrary to popular belief, the Advent wreath is a devotion of popular piety, not an official liturgy of the Church. The Advent wreath is not even a sacramental unless it is blessed by a priest. I’m not trying to discourage this popular devotion, though. The Church encourages this popular devotion and includes it in the Directory of Popular Piety:

The Advent Wreath

98. Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.

The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).

And there is also an official blessing of the Church from the Book of Blessings or current Roman Ritual (there is not an official one in the older form).

Of all the Advent customs, our family Advent wreath has been central to preparing for Christmas. We suspend our wreath over our dinner table, and since we eat dinner together every night, we have this daily visual and prayer time that help us count the days to Christmas. We have a poster and prayer leaflet we use every night, and our ritual includes singing O Come Emmanuel.

Each family has different priorities and personal taste when it comes to the Advent wreath. Just as Christmas trees are so individual, the same can be said about Advent wreaths. There is no universal standard for an Advent wreath; there have been minimal suggestions, but not necessarily mandatory, such the shape of a wreath or circle, the candles being three violet and one rose, and the use of evergreen. But if your wreath has white candles and has no greenery and is in another shape other than a circle, there is no Advent wreath police. The family Advent wreath is all according to what each family has for time, budget and product availability.

There are few things I have learned over the years of what works for our family:

  1. I don’t use fresh evergreens to make our wreath for several reasons: allergies, Christmas time travel, and lack of readiness 1st Sunday of Advent. If my wreath has to wait on me making it every year with new greens, we won’t have a wreath (particularly on the years like this one that Thanksgiving and Advent are the same week.)
  2. Instead I have a brass ring with candle cups decorated with artificial greenery. The Advent wreath is ready to go the Saturday evening before the First Sunday of Advent with no assembly required except hanging it on the chandelier.
  3. I don’t wait on suspending my wreath. Even if it’s not hung up by the first Sunday of Advent, the wreath is still on our dinner table.
  4. I buy my Advent candles in bulk, that way I always have a supply available. Every few years I will buy two or three sets. I try to keep at least one extra set on hand, and extra single candles for the later weeks of Advent to replace the burnt down stubs.
  5. I keep all candles for the year, especially for the different liturgical feasts and seasons in one or two boxes in a storage place that is cool and easy to access. I do not put my Advent candles in a special place that I can’t remember once Advent arrives. When I buy new candles, they immediately go into the candle box.
  6. My Advent wreath does double duty. I change the candles and decorations at the end of Advent to turn it into our Christmas centerpiece. I remove it from the chandelier, remove the signs of Advent and use either white, red, or green candles for the days of Christmas and place in the middle a statue of the infant Jesus. For Epiphany I change the candles to gold.
  7. Since I use the wreath during Christmas, it helps me ensure that when it is time to put all the Advent and Christmas decorations away, I can keep the Advent wreath separate. It goes in a prominently marked box and it the last one to be put away. It is well-marked, with the labels facing out. Even if no other Advent or Christmas boxes can be accessed or brought down, this one is easily accessible.
  8. Finally, I am choosy about the candles I use. I compromise on not using the live evergreen, which means I don’t have a fragrant wreath. But I do prefer to use solid beeswax candles (I don’t like the rolled beeswax sheets). The beeswax candles harken back to the Liturgy, since the candles at Mass traditionally have been required to be at least 51% beeswax. The beeswax candles also burn cleanly, have a wonderful aroma, drip much less than other types of wax, and last much longer. We light our candles nightly, and keep them lit throughout the dinner meal. This means we require longer-lasting candles. Beeswax candles are more expensive, but I feel that they actually save money by not destroying the wreath with and table with wax drips and not needing to be replaced as often.

About Those Beeswax Candles

I’m always on the hunt for new sources for beeswax candles. My dream has been to raise bees and create my own Advent candles. Since our neighborhood has a strict HOA, I know the raising bees part won’t happen. And I haven’t found the time, energy and supplies to make my own, so we’re doing it the standard way: I find the beeswax candles for sale on the internet.

Our Advent wreath uses standard tapers. I do try to get the least expensive candles, including postage. There are church goods supply houses that have plenty of beeswax candles, but the shipping cost tends to be prohibitive. I have three suggestions of where to order candles. The first two help support religious communities. The third option is a secular source:

  • The Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey: The Cloister Shoppe The cloistered sisters create a batch of Advent candles every year in limited quantities. These are 10” tapers, $17 a set plus shipping (2017: the sisters are no longer taking any internet or phone orders for their candles).
  • The Benedictine monks of Mount Savior Monastery in upstate New York: Gift Shoppe Their 10” tapes are $14.75 plus shipping. They also have options for small votive candles for $8.50, or 3”x3” pillar candles for $45.
  • Big Dipper Wax Works: Handcrafted Beeswax Candles: They sell 12 inch tapers for $20 plus shipping. The violet is a deeper color than the two above. And they are taller, so the candles burn longer. I watch for sales.
  • An excellent set is by A.I. Root Company, through Gloria Deo.

But not everyone puts beeswax candles as priority. In our parish there are different groups that sell regular stearine Advent candles, usually under $10, sometimes $5 a pack. This is always helpful because they sell them at the Mass and you have them right away. I have also found them at Hobby Lobby for under $5.00.

However the Advent wreath is done in your home, now is the time to start preparing for Advent. And if mail order candles are part of your routine, this is the time to order them.

  • Photos of the different beeswax candles:

From the Dominican Nuns:

From the Benedictine monks:

From Big Dipper Wax Works:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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