Introduction: Make an Advent Wreath for Your Family

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first to…
An Advent wreath is used in lots of churches. Many families also use an Advent wreath as a focal point for their daily devotions. Advent wreaths can be simple or complex, inexpensive or relatively costly. This Instructable will show how to make your own Advent wreath in a couple of different versions, depending how much you want to spend and what tools you have available. In addition, a couple more alternatives will be suggested to fit your needs and resources. 

Advent is a fundamentally Christian season of preparation before Christmas. Its four weeks represent the four thousand years between the first promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15 and the coming of Jesus. The word "Advent" means "coming." It prepares to celebrate the coming of Christ as the baby born at Bethlehem at the first Christmas. It also anticipates Christ's Second Coming as the judge of all things. And, it reminds that Christ comes dailly through using His Word and Sacraments. Advent begins the last Sunday of November or the first Sunday of December, depending on which day of the week Christmas (December 25) falls. 

Materials and tools needed will depend on whether you choose to make the relatively simple version based on a Styrofoam wreath or the wood and wire wreath form also shown here. Items with an asterisk are those needed exclusively for the wood and wire version.

Styrofoam wreath form
Candles: three violet, one pink, (optional: one white)
Fish line, wire, or pins for attaching greenery
1/2 x 1 1/2 Poplar wood three to four feet long*
Two wire coathangers*
Wood glue*

Marking pen
Electric drill
Spade bit
Twist drills*
Dremel tool and burr bit*
Masking tape
Fine tooth saw (hand or electric)*
Wood file*
Wire cutters*
"C" clamps*

Note: I had to prepare this Instructable several days before Thanksgiving because we were traveling out of state on Thanksgiving for a week. I agreed to publish this on December 2 as a part of an Advent Calendar Guide by Robot Lover. Now I notice two others have published Instructables for an Advent wreath within the last few days. You will see those Instructables listed in the Related Instructables. If that ever does not work, they are here and here.

Step 1: Select the Candles

Before beginning to make an Advent wreath, it is important to choose the candles you will use so you can fit the wreath to the candles, especially at their bases.

In my early experience, Advent wreaths always had three purple candles and one pink candle. Later I saw that some come with three blue candles and one pink candle, or with four blue candles.

But, back in the late 1980s I heard a German shortwave radio interview with a candlemaker who spoke about candles for Advent wreaths. I was surprised to learn candles for Advent wreaths can come in quite a variety of colors; including red, silver, and gold. And, I was surprised to learn that Advent wreaths can have candles entirely of one such color. This gives you quite a bit of freedom to find suitable candles almost anyplace in any price range. If you want a set of four red candles, try Wal-Mart. (Check on-line for availability in stores near you.) I also saw some available at Michael's craft stores.

Some Advent wreaths add a fifth white candle at the center of the wreath to be lit on Christmas Eve. It is referred to as a Christ Candle.

Candles for an Advent wreath with three purple and one pink are usually sold in sets. Check church supply stores where you live, or church supply catalogs. Here is an inexpensive set of stearic taper candles great for home use. Scroll down at the link in the last sentence to see a listing of candle sets other customers have purchased.  The stearic set candles are 12 inches high and 7/8 inch in diameter. If you want beeswax candles, you will pay more. While working on this I found some lavender candles and pink candles at our local Wal-Mart. Lavender is pretty close to purple. These candles are straight, not tapered and are eight inches high. You will see them in some of the later steps that are part of this Instructable.

(The image is from Toninni Church Supplies.)

Step 2: Meaning and Use

If you choose four candles of the same color, each candle can simply remind of the nearing Christmas celebration. If you choose three purple and one pink candle, there are two ways you can think of them.

First--The more traditional use of the candle colors is that the three purple candles are lit successively during the first, second, and fourth weeks of Advent with the pink candle being lit during the third week. This means one purple candle is lit during the first week. During the second week two purple candles are lit. During the third week two purple candles and the pink candle are lit. During the fourth week, all four candles are lit. On Christmas Eve, the white Christ candle (if used) is lit in addition to the other four.  

Purple is the traditional color for altar paraments during Advent to symbolize the coming King, Jesus. The third Sunday in Advent is traditionally Gaudate (Latin: Joy) Sunday. Rose or pink was chosen as the color for that Sunday, although there are no pink cloths for the altar coverings. 

Second--Another possibility I have seen somewhere is to use the three purple candles during the first three weeks of Advent and then use the pink candle for the fourth week. The thinking in this scheme is that as the revelation of Christ became ever more clear near the end of the Old Testament period, the color would lighten to pink on the way to white for the full manifestation of Christ. 

Step 3: A Metal Advent Wreath

For those who wish to buy an Advent wreath rather than make one, check this link. There are several similar to this available for sale, but most are flimsy. This one is better made and not expensive, especially compared to things you might need to buy to make an Advent wreath (steel rings, spade bits,  greenery). If you wish to buy a fancy Advent wreath, the price can be more than one might expect. Here is one for purchase very nicely done and ready to go with candles included.  At this link you can view an Advent wreath of cast metal designed to be used without any greenery. I considered including an Advent wreath someone with a welder could make with a couple of concentric metal rings and four short pieces of metal tubing set upright. 

The image above shows the Advent wreath our church uses. It is brass and the tops of the candles are almost six feet above floor level. The candles are nylon and contain a reserve for oil. This is a very expensive Advent wreath, but money for things like these is sometimes given as memorials by families and friends of people who have died.

Step 4: A Simple Advent Wreath of Styrofoam

Craft stores sell styrofoam wreaths that already have a green color. They come in several diameters. I chose a 12 inch size. 

Step 5: Layout

I like to use old newspaper and a felt tip pen for laying out patterns. Make two lines exactly perpendicular to one another. 

Step 6: Center the Wreath

Measure several times from every direction to be certain the Styrofoam wreath is centered on the two perpendicular lines.

Step 7: Mark for Drilling

Make a mark in the Styrofoam wreath on the line intersections for the candle sockets. Notice the marking pen stuck into the Styrofoam.

Step 8: Drill and Fit

These are the lavender and pink candles I bought at our local Wal-Mart for 88 cents each. They are straight, not tapered. They are 7/8 inch in diameter. I used a 7/8 inch spade bit to drill into the Styrofoam wreath, but the finished holes were a little large. So, I used masking tape to build up the candle bases for a snug fit. A good fit also insures that the candles will stand up straight. 

If you do not have a drill and a 7/8 inch bit, you could use a serrated knife, like a grapefruit knife, to make a socket for each candle. If there were any inaccuracies, you might need to use putty to fill in voids. Be careful not to break the Styrofoam wreath. Or, I learned about another option after I had already made this wreath. It is an individual candle base with a spike on the bottom to punch into the Styrofoam. These are supposed to be available at craft stores. See an example at this link.

Step 9: Semi-finished

I could imagine someone using this Advent wreath as seen here, especially someone who wants things simple and easy. My wife insists some greenery needs to be added, though. If you have access to an evergreen tree, it is easy to snip off a few small pieces without making the tree look like anything is missing. With or without actual greenery, the green color represents something ever-living. It is a way of hinting at eternal life.

While at the craft store, I saw ready-made wreaths with faux greenery for about $6, but the greenery was packed on so tightly that there would have been little opportunity to mount candles.

Step 10: The Styrofoam Wreath With Greenery

My wife had about fifteen feet of plastic greenery roping that I wrapped around the Styrofoam in a spiral pattern. You can still see the Styrofoam, if you look. (All of the candles would not be lit as shown, unless it is after the Fourth Sunday in Advent.)  

Step 11: A Longer Lasting Advent Wreath

The next steps will show how to build an Advent wreath form of wood and coat hanger wire. It will last for a very long time. 

When I was in Junior High the church in Iowa where I grew up decided it wanted to begin using an Advent wreath. The pastor asked me if I would make a form for the wreath. What I am demonstrating here is very close to what I did then. At the time I had access to very few tools, especially very few power tools other than an electric drill.

If you are able and wish to do so, you can rip your own lumber to size. In case you have limited tools, you can go to a big box store and buy lumber ready made to the size you need. I went to Lowe's and bought a piece of 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch poplar. I cut five squares 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. I also cut two pieces 13 1/2 inches long. 

Step 12: Joining the Two Long Pieces

The two long pieces are joined with a lap joint. The ideal way to prepare the pieces for a lap joint would be to use a table saw or a radial arm saw or a router mounted in a table. But, this Instructable is offered with the person in mind who may not have access to those power tools. 

Find the center of each 13 1/2 inch piece and make a mark 3/4 inch off of each side of the center mark so there are 1 1/2 inches between the two outside lines. Make several saw cuts exactly halfway through the thickness of the pieces. Remove the waste with a chisel. File so the surfaces are smooth, flat, and remove exactly one-half of the thickness. When the pieces fit smoothly, glue them together to make an "X."

Step 13: Prepare for Wire Greenery Supports

Straighten the wire from two common coathangers. These will form circles to which greenery can be attached. Use a compass to scribe arcs where the wire will be embedded. The pieces of wire will be covered by the square blocks. But, a hole for the base of each candle will also be drilled down through these square blocks. So, the wire will need to pass far enough away from the base holes, but also not too near the outer edge. There may still be some chipping out. Wood putty can be used to fill any holes from chipping out.

Step 14: Making Recess Channel for the Wire

If you have a Dremel tool with a small burring bit this is almost ideal for making the recessed channels in which the wire will lay. Make these channels in three of the arms on the wreath frame, but not on the fourth. The fourth arm will be handled in a special way so the ends of the wires may terminate at the fourth arm.

But, many do not have a Dremel. An alternative is to drill a series of holes straight down as near to one another as possible. These series of holes follow the arcs. Then use the drill at an angle to chew out the wood remaining between the holes drilled straight down. Be sure to make the channels deep enough 

Step 15: Termination for the Wire Ends

Channels for the wires are very short on the fourth arm. At the end of each is a hole drilled down. Size the length of each wire and bend a little of it at a 90 degree downward angle. This bent section will fit into the hole at the end of its channel. This termination will provide quite a rigid structure for the wires. 

On the version I made when I was in Junior High, I made recesses in all four arms and joined the ends of the wires using electrical end-to-end crimp connectors. 

Step 16: Glue the Square Blocks to the "X" Frame

Glue all five blocks to the frame. Four are placed at the ends of the arms. One is placed at the center over the lap joint. This is for the white Christ candle.

Step 17: Drill for the Candle Bases

A spade bit is an inexpensive tool for a larger hole, like those needed for candle bases. The straight candles shown in this Instructable require a 7/8 inch hole. If I were using tapered candles 7/8 inch in diameter, I would use a 3/4 inch bit. If you are using flat bottomed candles, they can rest on a flat surface without drilling a hole. Place the center of the bit so it drills between the two wires, not into one of them.

Make certain your bit is sharp. Drill at lower rpm's for more control and less chipping out. Try to make all holes of equal depth. A spade bit also makes it easier to make the hole perpendicular to the top surface because you can see if both halves of the bit contact the wood at the same time when beginning the hole. A larger spade bit will probably require a more powerful drill than some of the small drills found in many home toolboxes. Use a knife to trim away furry edges from drilling.

Now you can also adjust the wires for a smoother, more even appearance; even though their purpose is purely functional.

Note: If you do not want to go through all of the steps I showed for mounting wires to which greenery can be attached, it would be possible to cut a ring from 3/8 or 1/2 inch plywood. Glue square blocks to it and drill them for candle basses. If  "X" crossmembers were left across the center, a Christ candle could be mounted at the intersection of the members.

Step 18: Finish and Add Greenery

The wood may be finished as you desire. Wood always looks nice stained and varnished. But, you could also paint it green to blend with the greenery. See step 10 for notes on adding greenery. 

It is your choice whether you use live or "plastic" greenery. Certainly, the "plastic" greenery is easier because it never needs replacement, just a little fluffing up to make it look fresh rather than like it has been stored in a box for a year. The wire and wood version of the Advent wreath is better for attaching live clippings from a needle bearing tree than is the Styrofoam form, and the live greenery has a nice fragrance. The choice is yours.  

Step 19: Advent Devotions for Use With Your Advent Wreath

You can download free audio daily devotions for use during Advent at this link from Lutheran Hour Ministries in St. Louis. You can search the Internet for Advent devotions offered by others. (If the link goes away, you can also search for <Lutheran Hour Ministries Advent devotions>.) Or, Amazon has quite a number of devotions for Advent from Max Lucado and others that you can purchase. With all that are available, you should be able to find a series that suits your tastes.

The weeks leading up to Christmas can be hectic with all of the activities we believe necessary to prepare for Christmas--sending Christmas cards, shopping for gifts, decorating, hosting and attending parties, and accommodating guests, etc. When Germans want to wish each other a Merry Christmas, a frequent greeting seen on Christmas cards and elsewhere is, "Dir ein besinnliches Fest," which is, "(I wish) to you a contemplative celebration." An Advent wreath coupled with family Advent devotions can shift your focus away from hectic activities that may not really be necessary to some quiet contemplation of Jesus' coming and birth, and that can make your Christmas very meaningful.