THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. OPINIONS ARE MY OWN
Advent calendars aren’t the only way Germans count down the days until Christmas. Every year, families in German-speaking countries set up an Adventskranz or advent wreath to kick off the Christmas season and the Advent time.
Always circular, the advent wreath, which includes four candles, nowadays comes in a variety of sizes and styles. Sometimes it even includes a big white candle in the middle which is lit on Christmas Day. But the most popular wreath is still made out of evergreen branches. Not only does it symbolize everlasting life, but the candles also represent a newer and brighter time during the passage of the four Sundays of Advent.
The first Advent wreath was set up by Johann Wichern in 1839. The educator was the leader of the “Rauhes Haus,” a house in the suburbs of Hamburg that was and still is to this day a home for children and teenager without parents. To give the children a way to count down the days until Christmas, he decorated an old cartwheel with nineteen small red candles and four big white ones. Every day, he would lit a small candle and a big one every Sunday.
It is believed that about 20 years later, he began to decorate the cartwheel with evergreen fir and the Advent wreath was born. In the 1920s, the first wreath was set up in a catholic church in Cologne and in 1930 in Munich.
Growing up, I remember we always had an Advent wreath in the home and it always included four big red candles and evergreen fir. During Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) in Sundays we would sit around the kitchen table or the living room table and light a candle. In many German households this tradition is especially important, because the Christmas tree is usually reserved for a special unveiling only on Christmas Eve. Until that night, the Advent wreath with its evergreen branches provides the only fir aroma in the home.
In our home, by the time the last Sunday came around, the first candle was always used up the most. Some years, there actually wasn’t much left of the first candle. But no matter how much was left, the four weekends leading up to Christmas Eve were always a happy time. A time spent with family rather than the hectic search for Christmas presents.