What I Didn’t Know About the History of Advent Wreaths

From Dr. Katharine Harmon via PrayTell – Worship, Wit & Wisdom, insight into a German immigrant who popularized the custom of the Advent wreath in America:

Therese [Mueller] saw the liturgical year as a powerful, concrete venue for teaching salvation history.

Liturgical seasons afforded plentiful opportunity for creative, constructive tasks, in which children could be involved. For example, in 1940, she described “The Liturgical Year in the Home.” She described Advent as the holy season which symbolized the “time during which the Chosen People waited for their Redeemer.” So should we wait for our redeemer, “preparing our souls and our surroundings” for the coming of Jesus.

How to do this? She described what she did in her family (which now had two boys along with three girls). At home in the living room, they hung an evergreen wreath with four candles, which were lit, week by week, as a tangible, visible reminder of the approaching Incarnation. This custom, borrowed from her native Germany, would catch like wildfire. Originally with four red candles and considered outspokenly “Protestant,” Therese thought this German custom would be a perfect way of ditching the “horrible, secularized, commercialized Santa Claus, more and more shameful each year” and developing an oasis for considering the Advent of God.  In conversation with Fr. Martin Hellriegel, the red candles were switched to liturgical purple and rose, to match the liturgical colors of penitence and royal kingship.

Therese and her husband were also active in various Catholic Workers, and eventually taught at St. Catherine University and St. Thomas University in Minnesota.


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