VATICAN CITY — Thursday I walked past the Vatican Christmas tree on my way up to Pope Benedict’s private library to serve as the pool reporter for the pope’s meeting with Albanian President Bamir Topi.
Despite all the hustle and bustle going on in the square to prepare for Christmas, inside the papal palace all is still calm. In fact, the only seasonal touch in evidence was a small Advent wreath or Adventskranz on a side table in the papal library. One candle was lit, signifying the first week of Advent.
But I was surprised to note that all four candles on the kranz were red! Red? What happened to tradition … and in the papal palace of all places?
As it turns out, the Germans, who gave us Advent wreaths in the first place, generally use four red candles. The practice of using three purple and one pink candle was an adaptation made to reflect the colors of the liturgical vestments used on the four Sundays preceding Christmas.
But, searching for “Adventskranz” on http://www.google.de/ revealed a variety of practices, so I turned to the Rome correspondents of the popular German tabloid, Bild, for some clarification. Andreas Englisch simply said, “I think they are always red.” And then he passed the phone to his colleague and wife, Kirsten, who knows a thing or two about decorating for the holidays in an exuberant German manner.
She said, “Using four red candles is the most traditional way. But, really, it is like decorating a tree, you can do what you want. But green and red are the Christmas colors and 80 percent of Germans would have an Adventskranz with four red candles in their house.” The practice in churches is more varied, she said. Catholic parishes would have either four red candles or three purple and a pink candle, while Lutheran parishes — with more austere buildings in Germany — would tend toward four white candles.
A quick search of the blogosphere demonstrates that even on Advent-wreath candle colors there has been a bit of controversy.