Today is the first Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent precedes Christmas, and in the church it is the beginning of the calendar year. It is a time to prepare one's heart for the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist foretold his coming, urging repentance and baptism by water.
The modern church celebrates 4 Sundays in Advent, the 4 weeks before Christmas. Each Sunday focuses on a theme: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy
Today's theme is Hope.
In early European customs, the winter solstice season was marked by bringing in evergreens and lighting candles, symbolizing the continuing existence of life in the evergreens despite the bleak and cold landscapes, and light in the darkness.
Later, the Roman Catholic church began to use the custom of evergreen wreaths and candles to teach the Advent story. Very clever, really.
Now, we see all kinds of Advent countdown items, usually used to help children survive the interminable countdown to Christmas. A lot of times the focus is on gifts, toys, and candies. As much as I understand the draw, I sometimes feel that the secular world is stealing from the tradition of religion. The irony is that the Advent wreath is an example of the religious world stealing from the secular!
Here's a candelabra image I found incorporating the nativity imagery.