Advent Candle Meanings & Traditions to Illuminate the Holidays

If you'd like to bring the tradition of Advent candles to your family holidays, discover the meaning & color of each candle, how & when to light them, & more.

Updated October 30, 2023
Lighting the first candle on swiss advent wreath

At some point in your Christmas journey, you've probably come across Advent calendars. These popular calendars are a great way to build anticipation for Christmas while sharing the story of the holiday's origin. But you may be less familiar with Advent candles, which are a beloved holiday tradition in many families. 

Lighting these candles represents the lead up to the birth of Jesus. During this sacred time, families traditionally use their Advent candle wreaths as centerpieces, lighting a precise number of candles each week during dinner followed by a meaningful reading. If you'd like to bring this Christian tradition home to light up your holidays, discover exactly what you need to know about the meaning and traditions of advent candles. 

The Four Sundays of Advent

To determine the four Sundays of Advent, start by counting back the four Sundays before Christmas. Advent begins on that first Sunday, which usually falls sometime between November 27 and December 3. Another way is to find the Sunday that falls closest after the Feast Day of St. Andrew.

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Many churches provide their congregants with an Advent calendar to help them keep track of these days, since the dates change each year.

Advent Candles Meanings & Lighting Order at a Glance

Candle Name Candle Color Meaning Location in Wreath* Day
Prophecy Candle Purple Hope  Top 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sundays
Bethlehem Candle Purple  Peace Bottom 2nd, 3rd, 4th Sundays
Shepherd's Candle Rose (pink) Joy Left 3rd, 4th Sundays
Angel's Candle Purple Love Right

4th Sunday

Christ Candle White Purity Middle of the wreath Christmas Eve
Need to Know

* The candle positions in the wreath top, bottom, left, right are positioned based upon where the person lighting the candle stands. So the "top" position would be the farthest candle from the lighter, bottom closest, left would be to the lighter's left, right would be to the lighter's right.

Order to Light Advent Candles

Each of the four Advent candles represents the four weeks of Advent, so they should be lit in a specific order. 

  • On the first Sunday, light the first purple candle (top).
  • On the second Sunday, light the first purple candle (top), and then the second purple candle (bottom).
  • On the third Sunday, light the first purple candle (top), second purple candle (bottom), and the rose candle (left). 
  • On the fourth Sunday, light the first purple candle (top), second purple candle (bottom), rose candle (left), and third purple candle (right).
  • On Christmas Eve, light the first purple candle (top), second purple candle (bottom), rose candle (left), third purple candle (right), and then the white candle (center).
Need to Know

The Christ candle isn't necessarily in every advent wreath. If it comes with the wreath, you can light this. Or, you can place a white pillar candle in the middle of the wreath to light on Christmas Eve.

When to Light Advent Candles

Some people light advent candles only on Sunday nights. Others light it every night of the week, lighting only the candles for that week each night at dinner.  

Fast Fact

If you are Catholic, each time you light any of the candles, it's traditional to make the Sign of the Cross first. After a time, the candles are blown out at the end of each evening, followed by the Sign of the Cross again. 

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Advent Candle Color Meanings

Advent candle meaning is slightly different in each faith because the colors of the candles can be different, and the overall meaning or symbolism of the event varies from faith to faith and church to church.

Four lit candles for Advent
  • Purple or violet: This traditional color symbolizes penitence, or regret for sins, and the penance, or self-imposed punishment for a sin. It is also the color of royalty; purple also speaks to the birth of the new King and serves as a reminder of His suffering.
  • Pink or rose: Most often used on the third or fourth week, pink represents rejoicing. As many people see the end to their fasting approaching, they prepare to celebrate.
  • White: A large white pillar candle in the center of the wreath represents Christ and the peace he brings.

Other less traditional candle colors include:

  • Blue, which symbolizes the night sky or the waters in Genesis, but it can also mean royalty. The blue color also represents hope. Blue is used in place of purple by some Protestant denominations and Mozarabic Rites found in Southern Europe. 
  • Red candles are a symbol for communion and religious unity.
  • When used in Advent, green candles represent faith and a spiritual life.
  • For a representation of love and kingship, gold candles are used.

Advent Candle Names

Each of the violet, pink, and white candles carries a specific meaning related to the birth of Christ. And each serves as a reminder as the day approaches. 

Advent wreath in front of Christmas tree
  • The Prophecy Candle: The first purple or violet candle is the Prophecy Candle, which symbolizes hope, God's forgiveness toward man, and the expectation of the coming of the Messiah.
  • The Bethlehem Candle: The second purple or violet candle symbolizes faith and reminds Catholics about the experience of Joseph and Mary in the city of Bethlehem.
  • The Shepherd's Candle: The third candle, which is pink or rose, represents Gaudette Sunday, the joy that the birth of Christ brought to the world, and a break from Advent fasting to experience the joy of the day. The Shepherd's candle is sometimes white instead of rose or pink.
  • The Angel's Candle: The last purple candle is the Angel's Candle, representing purity and the peace and justice that the angels and Christ bring to the world.
  • The Christ Candle: If a white candle in the middle of the wreath is included, this candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and represents Christ and purity. The Christ Candle is lit every night until the Feast of the Epiphany, which is 12 days after Christmas.

Advent Wreath Religious Meanings

Advent wreaths and candles are more than another holiday decoration. These symbolic items represent the beliefs of different religions in a way that recognizes why they are celebrating Christmas.

Christmas advent wreath with candles
  • For many Christians of varying denominations, Advent is seen as a time to prepare for the celebration of Christ's arrival. Each candle represents one aspect of the waiting and is lit to signify Jesus bringing light into people's lives.
  • In Catholic households, the first two candles are purple in conjunction with the color of penance and the color worn by priests, the third is pink for the color of rejoicing, and the fourth is also purple.
  • Orthodox Christians observe Advent for 40 days using six candles, with one each in green, blue, gold, white, purple, and red.
  • Some Lutheran churches in the U.S. use four blue candles to represent hope and expectation, while others follow the Catholic version.
  • In Protestant churches, you will often find blue candles used as well or instead of the purple candles because their view of advent reflects more on hope and expectation rather than an arrival and preparation.

Advent Candles: A Timeless Household Tradition

The personal ceremonies surrounding each Sunday and night during Advent are personal and unique to each household. The readings, prayers, and colors speak to each family member's beliefs and values about the holiday season. What better way to add tradition, hope, and spirit to the world than with a little bit of candlelight? 

Advent Candle Meanings & Traditions to Illuminate the Holidays