Four Sundays in Advent precede Christmas, also known as the Nativity (or birth) of the Lord Jesus. The most precious custom for marking the four Sundays of Advent is to light the candles of an Advent wreath at one's home or church.
If you'd like to make an Advent wreath, here's a simple set of directions to help you along:
What you'll need:
Evergreen branches - You can cut these from an evergreen in your yard (the fresher, the better), purchase them from your local florist, or request them from your local Christmas tree seller.
Green floral wire (at least 24 gauge)
Floral or pruning shears (for cutting the floral wire)
One or two ribbons - The key is to find ribbons that will complement one another. You might get one of medium width and one of large width, one that's solid and one that's sheer, one that's satin and one that sparkles, etc. The colors are your choice. One custom is to mark three of the four "corners" of the wreath with blue or lavender while marking the fourth "corner" with pink, in order to mark the liturgical colors of each Sunday of Advent. This is not necessary, however; reds, greens, yellow, and whites are also good choices.
Berries - Small red berries are a lovely touch on a wreath of any kind, but there may be something akin to berries that would suit your wreath as well. Your florist would be able to help you. (Just be sure, if you have small children or pets who might have access to the wreath, that this addition is not toxic!)
Four tall candles - Many people use tapers (again, it is customary among some Christians to use blue/lavender candles for the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent while using a pink candle for the third Sunday of Advent, since these are the liturgical colors for those Sundays, but white or beeswax candles are fitting as well), while some prefer wider, stand-alone candles. My rule of thumb is this: if you plan to light the candles only on Sundays, tapers will melt at an appropriate rate. If you plan to light them several nights per week or every night per week, a wider candle will be more likely to last you through the season. One of the purposes of an Advent wreath is to mark the time by the melting of wax, so if you can find candles that will last you while still showing that they're diminishing with each progressive week, the experience of Advent will be that much more tangible.
What you do:
First, measure out a length of wire by fashioning it into a circle. Advent wreaths are often 12-15" in diameter or more. Snip the wire with your shears and twist the ends together. This will form your base. Next, begin placing the boughs around the wire--once they're arranged you can secure them by wrapping more green wire in a spiral around the branches and the base. Add your ribbon beginning with the widest, if you have more than one, weaving it loosely in and out of the branches. If you have narrower ribbon, you can weave that alongside the wider ribbon or use small pieces of it to place at each of the "four corners" where the candles will be placed. Add berries in thick clumps in 5-7 places around the wreath and secure them with floral wire to the base. Place candles (in their holders, if needed) in a square formation within the wreath, and voilà! Your Advent wreath is ready.
Each Sunday, you'll light a new candle. On the first Sunday of Advent, you'll light the candle opposite the pink candle (if you chose colored candles), or the candle of your choice (if your candles are one color or four different colors). Once you light it, using a slim taper or a match, let it burn during your Sunday dinner. If you're Christian, you may wish to accompany the lighting by reading the first reading of the day (from the Book of Isaiah): you can find readings for each day at http://www.usccb.org/bible in the upper-right hand corner. Or you may wish to light the candle(s) as you begin or end your day, as a private meditation, as part of your daily Advent prayer, or as part of Liturgy of the Hours.
I plan to offer Advent reflections via this blog, so feel free to visit here as you make your way through Advent. You may also enjoy Watch for the Light or Waiting in Joyful Hope.