Advent, the precursor to the birth of Christ, is traditionally a somber time of reflection before Christmas arrives. Church altar flowers should be subdued in reverence of the upcoming birth of Christ. In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Episcopalian churches, the focus is on greenery and wreaths during the four Sundays that precede Christmas Eve. Protestant, Pentecostal and evangelical congregations may follow the same traditions or decorate the altar and church in exuberant red and white floral displays.
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Altar Flower Arrangements
During Advent, the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations recommend simplicity and elegance when decorating the church. Flowers are not forbidden but shouldn't overshadow the upcoming Christmas celebrations. Place the flower arrangements and greenery around the altar but not on the altar top, also known as the mensa.
Depending on the church denomination, the color of Advent is usually violet, purple and in some churches, blue. Flowers in church during Advent might include purple asters, iris, lavender, orchids, statice or waxflowers combined with greenery, such as arbor vitae, conifers or ferns depending on availability. Evergreen topiaries fulfill the requirement of simplicity, particularly boxwood shrubs combined with trailing green or green and cream variegated ivies.
Evergreen wreaths are often placed on a wreath stand and include three violet or purple candles, one pink or rose candle and one white candle to represent penitence and royalty, rejoicing as Christmas approaches and the birth of Christ, respectively. One candle is lit each Sunday, with the pink on the third and white on the last Sunday of Advent.
Flowers for Advent Sundays
The first Sunday of Advent focuses on hope, with dark colors – blue, purple and green – and the second on preparation using lighter shades of the same colors. The third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete, features pink or rose flowers combined with light green foliage and white flowers for the Virgin Mary. Two simple floral arrangements, one on each side of the alter, using pink roses or carnations and white roses, carnations or baby's breath, represent the upcoming birth of the Christ child.
The finale, the fourth Sunday of Advent, represents love. The greenery and flower arrangements return to the lighter shades of blue, purple and green. On Christmas Eve, which is the last day of Advent, the decor changes to white and gold, and in many churches, red and white poinsettias, roses, carnations and lilies are added to the greenery in front of the altar.
Poinsettias, Lilies and More
Many Protestant, Pentecostal and evangelical churches don't participate in the observance of Advent. The churches decorate for Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Instead of candles, which can be a fire hazard, many modern churches use twinkle lights amid the evergreen garlands and floral arrangements.
An abundance of red poinsettias and evergreen foliage may be arranged around the church and in front of the altar and lectern. White, pink and variegated poinsettias, lilies, iris, amaryllis, paperwhites and other blossoms are among the seasonal flowers used in altar arrangements. In the Southwest, red chilies, cacti and gold-painted tumbleweeds may also be used at home and church as part of the Christmas decor.
- U.S. Catholic: Are There Rules for Church Holiday Decorating?
- Catholic Answers: No Flowers on the Altar
- St. Matthew's Episcopal Church: The Symbolism of the Colors of the Advent Flowers on the Altar
- Aleteia: The Profound Symbolism of Violet and Rose in Advent
- The Episcopal Church: Gaudete Sunday
- Catholic SMA: The Flower of Christmas Eve