Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Wreath

Why do people use an Advent wreath at Christmas? A wreath is used to
symbolize death, yet Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus the Christ. And why celebrate on the 25th of December? How does all this tie together?

The story of the Christmas wreath is a winding path of traditions including many pagan practices such as a wreath and yule log. Christmas also has roots in Judaism although in a much more subtle way.

Hannukah is sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as Jewish Christmas. The proximity of Hannukah and Christmas celebrations can be confusing to people of both faiths. Some Jewish families will include in their Hannukah celebration the swapping gifts in the Christmas "tradition".

Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. We swap gifts in recognition of the wise men that sought out the Christ child and came bearing gifts.

But why the 25th?

In 167BC Antiochus Epiphanes entered Jerusalem and ransacked the Temple. Over a three day period some 40,000 women and children were killed and another 40,000 sold into slavery.

In order to further break the spirit of the Jews, Antiochus descrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar on the 25th of the Jewish month Kislev.

A corresponding date on the Julian calendar would be the 25th of December.

Years later in a revolt led by Judas Maccabaeus the Jewish people retook the city and the Temple was reconsecrated for holy worship. The re-dedication of the Temple took place on the 25th of Kislev.

Centuries later Christians adopted December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Just as the rebirth of the Temple is celebrated during Hannukah, so is the birth of Yahshua (Jesus) the Christ during December.

A wreath is a continuous circle with no beginning and no end. Wreaths were used as a way to celebrate the end of winter and the coming of spring which brings new life.

Christians will often place an Advent wreath on a table consisting of 3 red candles, one pink candle and a white candle in the center. Beginning on the 4th Sunday before Christmas a candle is lit and accompanied by a prayer and scripture reading. For the next 3 Sundays successive candles are lit in anticipation of the coming of the Christ child. The pink candle, known as the Mary candle, is the last one lit before Christmas.

On Christmas morning the remaining white candle, Christ candle, is lit celebrating the birth of Christ.

The use of holly in forming the wreaths also has meaning. Green holly leaves represent the continuation of life during the cold winter months as well as the belief in eternal life through Christ.

Red holly berries are symbolic of the blood that Christ shed for our sins. The sacrifice of Christ also has ties to Judaism whereby a lamb was often used as a sacrifice to God.

Death and rebirth. Beginning and end. Judaism and Christianity. All brought together in the Advent wreath.
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