The Advent Wreath Candle Controversy

I was just in conversation with my American correspondent in the Diocese of Argyll about Liturgical Matters. It transpires that there is schism between us. It is my belief that the candles on an Advent Wreath should be red, with the possible addition of a white one in the middle at Midnight Mass. It is her belief that candles should be either all purple or three purple ones and a pink one.

My contention is that this purple and pink business is something which came to us from our colonial brethren not that many decades ago and that it is, like George Bush, something of which they should repent. My correspondent replied with the assertion that red candles on an Advent Wreath could never be, because “…red candles are common”.

This seems to confirm my view that although she may not be personally responsible for changing our candles from red to purple/pink, her co-countrypersons were. Anyone beg to differ?

If we could resolve differences such as this, we might be able to move to some kind of companion link with the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles one day, which would be quite exciting. We could go there for visits and exchanges, and maybe even share communion.

Comments

  1. Tim Edwards says:

    Why are they ti be red?

  2. kelvin says:

    In the telephone conversation that started this, neither of us were able to justify our prejudices. I don’t claim to be able to now. I did try claiming that they should be red like holly-berries, but this was countered by the assertion that in the Diocese of Dunoon, all red berries had been stripped from the Advent Wreath.

  3. Andrew says:

    Jesus sometimes had to explain his parables to his disciples. Could you explain this one to us?

  4. kelvin says:

    The question is, who started making advent wreathes with three purple and one pink candle? I think this practise came from the US, and wish it hadn’t.

    The Rector of Dunoon & Co, with whom I was speaking originally hails from the states.

  5. I have a confession: I’m with Argyll and the Isles, on this one Kelvin (3 purple, one pink, one gold/white) – if only because it lets me bring out my rose chasuble for an airing! Surely all the orthodox faithful would expect nothing less? Otherwise there would indeed be good cause for a fearful schism.

  6. Kimbery says:

    The question, Kelvin, is not one of origin but aesthetics. And whilst I am very grateful for David’s support, if red candles are ‘common’, gold are simply unthinkable. I did offer the option of all candles being white. That would set the pink berries in the Advent wreath off perfectly.

    It occurs to me that we need the only fully qualified American Aesthete we know to arbitrate — Kelvin: can you get Edward in on this?

  7. Tim Edwards says:

    How many angels dance on a candle wick?

  8. Tim Edwards says:

    Actually, I can answer that one – none, because they’re all on the tree…

  9. kelvin says:

    I fear that Edward’s aesthetic judgement might not extend to this topic. Pink berries on an Advent Wreath are not so much common as camp.

    I do agree that it is a question of aesthetics. The truth is, in my little world, advent is blue (not purple, not pink) and full of greenery and red candles on the wreath whilst Lent is bare and colourless (not purple at all).

    Fr David, if I had rose vestments, it might be that my judgement might be swayed. However, rose vestments in the dressing up cupboard there are none and so red candles prevail.

  10. O dear Kelvin – get some ordered – they’d look lovely on you!

  11. Moyra says:

    We’ve got four purple ones…..

  12. Kimbery says:

    I will concede that pink berries might be camp. Though that is nothing compared to our lovely twigs of umbrella pine.

    On that designation, I up the stakes and claim that purple candles and pink berries are a visible sign of our commitment to an open and inclusive Anglican Communion.

    Red candles, alternately, proclaim Traditional Family Values and speak of boisterous women wearing Christmas tree sweaters and Santa clause pins.

    (Ah, now that’s an interesting though. Maybe the need for purple candles for Advent really does come from the States — a way of controlling what would otherwise happen if lots of Santa clad women were let loose with red, green and gold.)

  13. kelvin says:

    There is no wonder the communion is in the trouble it is.

    I’m not convinced that the purple/pink candle option is necessarily the inclusive option.

    I think that you will find that I never criticised the pink berries. Far be it for me…

    On the subject of candles, I suggest that we all unite in our diversity and light our candles this evening, pink, blue, purple, white, red or gold or what have you for the Diocese of Aberdeen which meets to elect a new Bishop tomorrow.

  14. Well, we’ve got three purple, a pink – and a white for the big day! We ordered an Advent Candle Set from Hayes and Finch, and that’s what we got! Actually (and I feel slightly ashamed to admit this), they’re last year’s. There was plenty of ‘wear’ left in them, so we thought we’d just use them again. In my last charge they had red candles and sang a rather pathetic song as each was lit – a new verse being added each Sunday! Maybe next year we’ll have red candles here – a bit of variety never did anyone any harm! But definitely not the song!

  15. kelvin says:

    Hayes and Finch bear a great and unfortunate responsibility in all this.

  16. Moyra says:

    As do Farris… it’s virtually impossible to get a purple set without a pink candle in.

    We make our own (all purple ones)!

  17. …and have any idea how traumatic it was to get all red candles when in previous years we donated to other uses the red candle that came in the H+F box with the 3 purple / 1 pink / 1 white.

    Maybe DofG+G should go in with DofA+I and make our own for the two dioceses next year.

  18. GadgetVicar says:

    I’m loathe to intervene in this important debate, as I don’t want to see anyone oppressed by my limited and somewhat simplistic understanding of the matter. However the following might help (or not):

    Advent wreaths and candles are a comparatively recent (16th C) innovation, though of course they have pagan antecedents.

    Unlike many other things, neither are commended nor rejected in biblical terms. So they can safely be deemed adiaphora.

    If they are adiaphora, is God really that bothered with what colour they are?

    I worry about all this liturgical fundamentalism which is so prevalent in the Communion these days. How it must detract from the real mission of the church?

    For the record – our candles are all white. Hey, that’s diversity for you.

  19. kelvin says:

    Yes, Gadgetvicar, but do you not worry about churches using pink candles when the word “pink” never occurs in holy scripture at all? Such a departure from the biblical precepts matters a huge amount.

    One of the problems that still worries me about the adiaphora concept is that there is a danger that someone might presume that that which was approved of by the biblical witnesses need necessarily be approved of now.

    Then there are the things which some would now claim to be present in scripture but which almost certainly were not believed by the characters at the time.

    What we need in all of this is to covenant together not to use candles which are offensive to our brothers and sisters or which might damage the mission of the wider church. Perhaps we should draw together a group to draft the rules. (Need to ensure that all candle colours are represented at the drafting meetings).

    Wonder where Tom Wright stands on all this.

  20. GadgetVicar says:

    Love it!

  21. As the long-standing gatherer of berries (pink and white), umbrella pine branches (nicked) and other exuberantly pagan greenery for the Advent wreath in the Argyll church to which you all refer, I must point out the following: (a)We’ve had the H & F purple/pink/white ensemble for ever – no colonials required (b) the pink berries grow in the church grounds and are wonderfully timed to coincide with our need for them – so are obviously “meant” (c) the rest of the world jumps the gun at Christmas with the red and gold stuff (d) we have our standards to keep up. Our Advent wreath is like none I have ever seen anywhere else: long may it remain so!

  22. kelvin says:

    Oh, a fine defence Chris – an appeal both to tradition (we’ve always done it this way) and to natural theology (these pink berries growing in the right place and the right time). I tip my biretta in your direction.

    I’ve no objection to the pagan greenery. (As one with an advent “wreath” nude of all greenery I long for Christmas to come). Nor would I object to the pink berries. (As I said earlier, far be it for me…)

    It is the pink candle with which Hayes and Finch hath ‘witched the bosom of God’s children in Dunoon, Dunfermline and to the uttermost parts of the earth. That is what the problem is. It was colonials I tell you.

    You couldn’t post a pic on your blog of the wreath could you. It might help people understand the issues. They can see a wreath with red candles on the wikipedia page on Advent Wreaths if they so choose.

    It is rumoured that the C of E is going to publish a report “Issues in Advent Candeleria” soon which may resolve things, but apparently they cannot get all their bishops to agree on the conclusions.

  23. I am delighted to be the priest-in-charge of a purple/pink/white combo and I don’t care where it came from. I just like purple and personally would have the whole church in purple all the year round. No suffering for me in purple.

    However, in light of this debate why don’t we go for rainbow candles? They are rife in little gift shoppes in our fair land. And they would show the world what an inclusive church we are. AND our homosexual sisters and brothers would see that they are welcome too. How cool is that?

  24. GadgetVicar has candles at all?
    I am shocked, I say, shocked!

  25. No sooner said, Kelvin – and thanks to KB for providing the photo. Hie ye over to blethers for to see how ’tis done in Argyll!

  26. kelvin says:

    Chris thank you for posting the pic. Now we all know what we are up against. People should be encouraged to double click on the pic to get the full effect of the pink berries. (which are fabulous in concept and execution, BTW).

    Simon – don’t be shocked by Gadgetvicar having candles. When I went to a service in his church earlier in the year he appeared in an alb no less. We might be shocked that he is prepared to go on record as having pagan greenery in church however. There may be True Christians listening in for whom that is rather too much of a shock.

    In Scotland, Anglicans really do start higher up the candlestick than our cousins south of the border. “Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order” (and not vice versa) is the church’s motto. Most of our liberal catholics have been born again at some time in their lives. (Some several times!). And most of our Evangelicals are unafraid of candles.

    Look out for Gadgetvicar waving a thurible during the annual St Silas procession through the streets for Candlemas in a few weeks time.

  27. Kimbery says:

    ‘True Christians’ — reading this blog? Scandalous.

  28. To add another mix from Argyll (CofS no less) – our little church has four purple and one red. No berries though. I am not responsible, merely giving a point of information. Love the pic from Blethers, by the way.

  29. Zebadee Pugwash says:

    Candles should all be ‘rainbow’ colours. How else can the Church be seen as inclusive?

    True Christians reading this blog? Kimberley you should know that even on the edge of the known universe there are those who seek the ‘truth’ even if it never seems to appear.

  30. Kimbery says:

    Zebadee — I dare say if truth appears anywhere it will appear here.

    And in the mean time: crucial news from Radio 3. In Germany, the custom is 4 red candles for Advent.

    Or so the presenter claimed — though to trust her, one would also have to believe that each household bakes 10 types of cookies in Advent, which are brought out several times a day whenever guests drop by. Just as we all had time to make Christmas puddings on Stir-up Sunday, I suppose.

    Since I heard all this while driving back from the congregation in Tighnabruaich, I should mention that along the Kyles of Bute there is not a wreath in sight, but four white tea lights swimming in a sea of purple satin and rose shot silk.

  31. Oh, thank God for Germany.

    I’m about to be the recipient of lots of Christmas cookies. I believe every word. It was Radio 3 after all.

    I use a book of collects which has moved stir up Sunday, but perhaps that is for another thread.

    Sounds to me as though the Kyles of Bute have been spending too much time going to TISEC residentials.

  32. Kimbery says:

    In Argyll (or at least in Cowal and Bute) the theory is: why go to TISEC weekends when the cloth will come to you?

    (and lovely to hear from you so swiftly, Kelvin. Sweden always was good for your correspondence skills.)

  33. GadgetVicar says:

    Looks like my cover is blown.

    Can we borrow the thurible for the procession then, Kelvin?

    I’ll get me coat………..

  34. Fr G, you are most welcome to borrow a thurible any time. We provide lessons too.

  35. Zebadee Pugwash says:

    In the Episcopal Church that I/we attend we have four red candles and one purple. It looks rather strange. Never mind the Church is decorated beautifully with so much pagen green boughs and other green items. What would Boniface,[Saint] [680_ 754] have made of all this one cannot begin to imagine.

  36. Why is it that the main section of this blog carries so many ads for online dating? Can it be that the divine Google thinks that so many people with nothing better to do than comment on candles might get together and find a life? Just a thought ……
    I smiled when we lit the rose candle this morning.

  37. Well, the ads are different according to where you view the page from. I get different ads looking at the page from Sweden. I can only conclude that they think that the people of Argyll are in particular need of company.

  38. Gary says:

    So what are the Swedish ads then? :-)

  39. kelvin says:

    Swedish ads not exciting, but google forbids one to comment on the content of ads on the same website. It mucks up their placement programmes.

  40. I was intrigued by this post as we in the Church of England face similar schism at the moment with the rise to prominence of a new genre of Covenanted Evangelicals who are concerned about similarly weighty matters within our Dioceses. Being strictly scriptural of course doesn’t help in your debate since Advent candles area 12th century invention which was imported into the west coast of Ireland. The authentic tradition has however survived with Irish emigres to Canada and I have blogged about it here, as well as offering some tongue cheek commentary on your dilemna. see
    http://bigbulkyanglican.typepad.com/bigbulkyanglican/2006/12/scottish_advent.html

  41. Fr. Intrigued says:

    Can anyone offer any guidance about what to do with the Advent Wreath at Midnight Mass? It’s seems an awful lot of stuff to get through to process in, bless the crib, THEN light the Advent Wreath before we finally get around to beginning the Liturgy of the Word. Should the central candle (ours is white) be already burning, or should we just hide the wreath in the vestry and bring it out again on Christmas morning?

  42. kelvin says:

    Dear Fr I – I’m sure that it cannot be good liturgical karma to whisk the wreath out of church for Midnight Mass and then back again for Christmas Day. No, my view is that the four candles that have been lit during the preceding four weeks of advent should be burning brightly before the service so that the faithful can see them as they come into church. The central one can then either be lit when the bambino arrives in the crib on the stroke of midnight, from wherever he has been hiding or alternatively the white central candle can be [added and] lit for the mysteries on Christmas Day.

    I’ve known the bambino to have been hiding in the chalice in order that he did not get lost, but I don’t think that is compulsory in the Western Rite.

  43. Fr. Intrigued says:

    Wouldn’t fit ours in the chalice – but thanks.

  44. Kimbery says:

    We lit the white candle at the elevation — the server timed it beautifully so that elevation- lighting-genuflection happened in one fell swoop. (and at this point, the ‘bambino’ was tucked on the foot of the altar cross, behind the elements, waiting to be brought to the crib.)

  45. kelvin says:

    In the land of Glasgow, the white candle was lit at the moment when the Bambino arrived, at midnight. He arrived whilst the words of the Benedictus were being sung.

    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

  46. Ah….. I wonder why you selected that specific time.

  47. kelvin says:
  48. Jerry King, Port Neches, Texas says:

    The three purple candles, like purple vestments and altar trappings, represent penitence. The pink, or Gaudet, candle represents our hope in Christ.

  49. Jerry King, Port Neches, Texas says:

    We have always redecorated the wreath on Christmas Eve. The advent wreath has greenery and perhaps pine cones, but no bright colors. On Christmas Eve we alway add holly berries and red bows to make it a Christmas wreath.

  50. Travis says:

    The purple color symbolizes royalty and was the color of the advent candles until recently when churches started going with blue. The third candle is traditionally pink to emphasize the joy theme and a slight lifting of the penitential emphasis of the season and also comes from the early church’s tradition of the pope giving out a rose on one sunday during Advent. The colors have historical precedence, but are certainly not necessary. The candles are simply a countdown until x-mas; any color will do.

  51. I am with those who say that the colour scheme does not matter as much as the practice and understanding of what we remember during Advent. Similar controversy arose in the Church of England over the pink candles association with the third or fourth Sunday. What is clearly is that it is linked to Mary so that determines when the pink candle is lit – the fourth Sunday in the current Common Worship format. For the record we have four purple and a white candle and have done to my memory for 40 or so years. What is more interesting and encouraging is to see all sorts of folk of Protestant and evangelical origin getting into this Advent liturgical thing.

  52. Andrew 2 says:

    http://www.kencollins.com/question-10.htm suggests its Lutheran (like everything else around this time?). Pink for Joy seems to be in RC churches on 3rd Sunday but then tradition is only as old as that person’s memory….. looks prettier anyway :-)

  53. caroline says:

    lol all wrong the pink is because the angel came to visit mary

  54. Lambert says:

    The color of the Candles tell the tale.

    They must be purple in evidence of our melancholy that is involutional and not a direct result of sin. We are dealling here with the final mass called the Christ-mass wherein Christ is born to the individual who recongizes the [third] white candle as his very own Baptism candle that was given to him THEN, and here now is called upon as the glimmer of hope that new life will BE on the other side of this life that WAS.

    So it is during Advent that our life-house-boat is set afloat and it is out of the purpleness of purple that the white is reborn with a life of its own.

    If [Luther] had known that unstructured space is a deluge
    and stocked his life houseboat with all the animals,
    . . . even the wolves, he might have floated.
    But obstinate he stated: the land is solid and stamped!
    . . . watching his foot sink down through stone,
    up to the knee.

    So please note that Advent is the New Testament version of the Flood wherein we are ‘ark builders’ here now undergoing the controversy that is created by the fading light of common day and the promise we made that we would built a life house boat of our own.

    Could it be true that not all water is the same?

  55. Sarah SSM says:

    And in a colonial take on Sarum, ours has four blue candles. No berries. Too bad – there are some lovely evergreens with blue berries, although I haven’t seen them in Boston.

  56. pmo1969 says:

    Until I actually looked last night I couldn’t see what colour we had as i couldnt see over the organ…… 4 red and 1 white… all very trad fluffery too!

  57. Andrew CJ says:

    Actually it is a mere class thing, as in either U or non-U. My church does white-only candles.

    But whilst at another church for Christmas Eve mass, with purple and pink candles, some of the congregation were chewing gum, sporting denim trousers. Oh, and t-shirts of course. And frayed denims under the accolytes’ vestment.

    But this is 2007 and anything goes, one is told to believe.

  58. We had purple 3 and pink 1 and white in middle. All was well until a child was encouraged to light a purple one on 3rd Sunday instead of the pink one. Mary seemed to get shifted to 4th Sunday which fitted the readings but as I see it pink is for rose Gaudete Joy!

  59. Gerry Hough says:

    Just found this string.

    When I was child in the United States in the 1950s, Advent wreathes were unadorned evergreen with four white candles and it dissappeared on Christmas Eve.

    By the 1960s it was three violet candles and a single pink or rose candle. This reflected the vestments and paraments in the RC church I attended with my Mother.

    When I attended services in my father’s Episcopal church, the candles were three in Royal Blue and one in Rose. In the 1970s, a fifth white candle was added to the center of the wreath on Christmas Eve in both Churches and on Christmas morning all of the Candles were changed to white.

    The wreath was still evergreen branches although on occaision holly branches and gold ribbon would be added to the wreath on Christmas eve.

    This was entirely up to the altar guild ladies.

  60. agatha says:

    I’ve just found this too. Until I was fortysomething I’d always assumed the church had run out of purple ones and was making do with pink for the last week.

    And I’m still waiting to be asked to light, First week some old guy gets chosen as a patriarch (not me), next week somebody wise as a prophet (definitely not me), then some other bloke as John, then somebody either matronly or virginal for Mary (not me either way).

    I may start my own church

  61. Laurence Roberts says:

    Flying bishops are definately called for –at least. Or perhaps a separate rpvince.

    Could be called :–

    Common Candle Cause

  62. Nothing much to say but just a message to put this message equal first in the popularity stakes.

  63. …actually with five months to go before the St Mary’s advent comes out again, I must remember to check it out to determine if any maintenance is required. I think some of the paint is lifting, so a resprary my be required.

  64. Sarah says:

    good job

  65. lizzy says:

    i love the advent wreath

  66. St Mary’s advent wreath has been refurbished – a new coat of black paint – and will be put in place on Saturday night ready for Kelvin’s attentions during divine service on Sunday.

  67. ryan says:

    St.Silas has taken delivery of its advent candles – three purple and one pink, just like they should be! We rock :-).

  68. Alex Grosset says:

    I did a search for Advent Candles and came across your controversy. We are a small C of S and have four red + one White. Our controversy is “when should it be removed?” Candlemass?

  69. Kelvin says:

    I’d remove the Advent wreath before Epiphany. I’d keep the crib, or at least the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and the Bambino) visible until Candlemas.

  70. Howard Bluett says:

    I have just stumbled across this and am intrigued that the most comments have come not on any theology but on the colours of candles. Well here is a new take. In the last church where I served as Reader for many years we had many colours. The first Sunday candle was purple as we listened to the solemn message of the prophets. The old calendar had Advent 2 as Bible Sunday and we focussed on the word as we lit the red candle for the fire in the latern untop our feet which that word is. (Sorry about the grammar) Then on the third Sunday the mood lightens with the message of John Baptist and we lit a pink candle (anybody else still use pink vestments on that day?) The fourth Sunday in Advent focussed on the now very pregnant virgin, the great O of the antiphons, and the candle was blue.
    Chew on that from a former SEC person, Church of the Good Shepherd , Murrayfield, Edinburgh

  71. ryan says:

    that was interesting Howard. Personally, as long as we got the pink candle (and rose vestments of course)on gaudete I think a blue candle on the fourth sunday could work well.

  72. Stychomythia says:

    Fr Bluett is right! Purple candles for Advent ( a penitential seasn for which the liturgical colour is,,,purple) except for the third candle which, following the liturgical calendar again is pink for the Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday). The central candle should be white or, if you’re feeling wild, gold for Christmas a major feast.

  73. Michael J says:

    I’m sure Kelvin will be delighted to hear that he has Pope Benedict’s blessing for his red candles – they are what His Holiness himself uses. Pictures here of the Holy Father’s Advent Wreath:
    http://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/not-all-advent-wreath-candles-are-purple-and-pink/

  74. Another Kelvin says:

    Is there a proper use for all the left over pink candles when you opt for purple and white?

  75. While it’s hard to imagine why you would not choose pink for Gaudate Sunday, you could perhaps save them up and find a use for them on Laetare Sunday instead.

    Failing that, I’m sure there is a six year old girl somewhere whom you could make very happy…

  76. ryan says:

    Even we at St.Silas have the right colours! Am hoping I get to do the pink one this year :-).
    Red is far too Santa Clause ( a look that, for all his laudable bringing back of red papal slippers, Pope Benedict can occasionally and unfortunately lapse into)

  77. Another Kelvin says:

    Thank you Kimberly – that is helpful although my ten year old girl, when consulted, didn’t even glance up from her pink Nintendo.

    My church has accumulated six quite large pink candles – too good to throw away but frankly not the sort of thing I want burning on the altar. If we are representative of only ten parishes in each diocese then there could easily be 3300 pink candles kept safely in British churches. An untapped resource but I’m not sure what for.

  78. Thank you for this illuminating and uplifting discussion which has made me chuckle and reaffirmed why I loved being an ‘Episcopalian’

  79. Kennedy says:
  80. John Overton says:

    It never ceases to “get to me” after my nearly 30 years in Scandinavia that “church bad taste” should so mar the use of Advent candles in churches of the Anglican Communion (I was born British and was an organist in Sweden for over 2 decades.)
    Colour clash seems always to be a problem in churches where, for example, liturgy dictates and choir preferences have not found ways to work together (scarlet reds and mauve pinks, for example…) Unfortunately humans seem unable to get away with the gaudy mix of colours that nature shows in spring, though during Advent in churches this is when they try hardest to do so – the 4 weeks before Christmas with the advent into the church of the seasonal wreath are the worst!!
    May I respectfully suggest that the only proper colours for Advent candles is white – (with a fifth white for Christmas, of course) – in sisterhood with the Anglican’s Lutheran communion of the North and in the upholding of exquisite taste! Gently “cellaring” the majority of current wreath-holders and ordering special wrought-iron candlesticks with style (good for local business) would add to the sense of excellence!
    Ah! I have long yearned for the opportunity to write this. Thank you
    John Overton (currently in Italy)

  81. Fr David Lloyd says:

    I like the significance of purple for penitence, pink to rejoice (gaudete) and to signify the lesser light of SJB and white of course for Christ.

  82. Stuart says:

    We have dark pink (ie not really red candles on our advnet wreath at home – becasue they match the wallpaper.

  83. Adelaide Kent says:

    In the churches I have attended ( Northeastern US) the custom of using blue vestments in Advent has been echoed by using three blue candles and one pink for 3 Advent. I am told that blue vestments are a Celtic practice which has come into vogue as Advent has been dissociated from Lent.

    I will not comment on the subject of rose vestments except to say that if a church actually has a set, it is up to the rector.

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