If you celebrate Advent with an Advent wreath—whether at home, in church, or both—your child is certain to ask you a question today:
The origin of the pink candle can be found in the Church’s other purple season: Lent.
Lent is the oldest season in the liturgical calendar. It began as a preparatory fast for catechumens (converts to Christianity) prior to Easter baptisms. As other feasts joined Easter in the calendar, additional preparatory fasts were established through common practice. One of these was the Nativity Fast, a forty day period proceeding Christmas that paralleled the forty days of Lent.
The Nativity Fast is still part of the eastern liturgical calendar followed by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. But in the west, the fast lessened in both length and severity over time, evolving into the four-week season of Advent that we know today.
So why the pink candle? Bear with me just a bit longer.
The fourth Sunday of Lent—Laerte Sunday—falls around the middle of Lent, and is traditionally a day in which the penitential nature of the season is lightened a bit. To signify this lightening, the clergy wore rose (or pink) vestments on that day. The Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—falls at a similar midpoint, and before long clergy wore rose on that day too. The color fits the theme of the day (“Rejoice!”), and, besides, why buy a nice set of vestments only to wear them once a year?
The Advent wreath, meanwhile, grew out of a Germanic tradition. The color of the candles weren’t fixed, but over time became purple to match the color of the season. Since the liturgical color in the churches changed to rose on Gaudete Sunday, it follows that the third candle would become pink as well.
That’s the grown-up answer, but try telling that story to your kids and they’ll fall asleep. So here’s the kids’ version:
“We’re happy that Christmas is less than two weeks away and the pink candle symbolizes that joy.”
But kids always have more questions:
“Then why isn’t the fourth candle pink too? Won’t we be happier next week when Christmas is even closer?”
At this point, revert to the grown-up answer. Your child will lose interest by the end of the first paragraph and you wont have to finish.
And that is a reason to “rejoice!”
And a bonus link for yesterday: