I was unaware of this and always thought of Advent as a precursor to Christmas-- the days leading up to Christmas.
The Advent Wreath dates back to ancient Roman times and some people believe it goes back even earlier. The Advent Wreath as we know is started in Germany as a Lutheran family custom. Advent wreaths were originally used in the home and were therefore small, compared to ones that are used in churches.
Interestingly, too is that churches didn't start using them until the middle of the 1900's. Now, they are as commonplace as a Christmas Tree.
Advent wreaths can have 4 or 5 candles. The wreath is symbolic in number and color. The 4 candles represent the 4 Sundays before Christmas. This is why advent can start in November (and it does not always start on Dec 1).
The wreath is made up of 4 candles in either a wreath or a circle format... Traditionally candles were purple, an expensive dye that was the color of royalty. It is the symbol for the coming of the King. (Blue candles are also used).
One candle can be pink. A fifth candle - if you choose to use it, goes in the center of the wreath and should be white.
1st Sunday - The first candle that is lit is purple and symbolizes hope.
2nd Sunday - Second candle is purple and sybolizes love
3rd Sunday - Third Candle is either pink or purple - symbolizes Joy
4th Sunday - Fourth candle is purple and symbolizes peace
Christmas Day - Fifth candle, if you chose to us it, is for Christmas Day.
The candles are to be lit during prayers and then extinguished after the prayers. So, the first Sunday, you would light the first candle, say your prayers and then extinguish the flame.
The next Sunday you would light the first & second candle, say your prayers, then extinguish both. Follow the same for the remaining weeks.
One year, we lit our candles during dinner - so the first week, we lit one candle. The second week, we lit 2 candles, and so on.
Here is a very common and affordable Advent Calendar. We used to have these growing up and I still purchase them for Allie & Ash. The thrill is that each day, you open it up and get a small chocolate bit in the shape of a bell, candle, ornament or the like. It is a fun lead up to Christmas.
Here is another Advent Calendar that you can put your own goodies in.
It is always a treat!