I am sure there is a long history to the advent wreath, but I really have never researched it. It's been part of my history ever since I can remember.
My parents had a gold circle with ornate candle cups as their advent wreath. My grandmother had a plain one. She put a green, plastic, Christmas wreath on hers and it looked very pretty.
Our first year of being married, I didn't have an advent wreath. I bought four votive candles (three purple, one pink), lit them, waited them to have enough wax to drip, and fastened them to a plate by the wet wax. I put a shimmering Christmas garland around it and called it a day. It served well and looked pretty.
Other years, I've used heavy coat thread to hang the wreath from the chandelier above our dining table, and decorated that with a plastic star garland we had. It looked great, and with a bigger family by this time, saved much needed table space.
There are traditional prayers and meditations, but often we lit the candle (or candles depending on the week) and said a simple grace.
A search on Google will find all sorts of Advent meditations and prayers but this might be a nice place to begin: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0132.html
I hope you observe Advent this year. I think you'll find it very beneficial!