The Christmas Advent: A German Tradition
The old Christmas traditions of Europe weave themselves through our Christmases today: the tannenbaum, gingerbread houses, Christmas markets. Many of these beloved traditions began in Germany. Germany, where the steam and woodsy aroma of roasting chestnuts in carts pocketed around town fills the frosty air on winter nights. Where a crystalline morning snowfall nips at noses and cheeks in the Black Forest. Where still today, children gather around Christmas Eve tables spread with roast goose, potato dumplings, and spice cake.
One of the most endearing German traditions though has had a slower entrance into American homes. It is the tradition of the advent wreath.
The story goes that young orphans at a seminary in Germany would ask the pastor each day if it was yet Christmas. Perhaps wearied of their questioning or desiring to help them count the days down, he built a wreath from an old wagonwheel, with 20 small red candles and 4 large white ones to countdown the coming of Christmas. Each day, they would like a candle, the reds on weekdays and Saturdays, and the whites on Sundays. As the Advent was traditionally a time for believers to fast and look forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ, the nightly lighting of the advent became a moment to point thoughts and hearts towards Him.
Today, traditional advent wreaths use just four candles, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, and each week represents a part of Christian belief: hope (week one), peace (week 2), joy (week 3, often using a different colored candle), and love (week four). In some homes, families place a large white candle in the center of the wreath, which they light on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
On each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, the family gathers around and lights the advent. Each week an additional candle is lit until on the Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are burning. The family might read Bible stories, sing Christmas carols, and drink hot chocolate while they enjoy the candlelight. Often the advent lighting is accompanied by special Christmas cookies and nuts made only during the holiday season.
You can make your own advent (traditional advents are decorated with pinecones and berries gathered from the forest), or browse some of ours. We've put together a collection of advents from makers here and abroad (especially from Germany). They take many different shapes: Some use candles to countdown. Others are paper with tiny windows to open each day of December. Others are countdown chains with holiday activities to do each day.
However you count down the days before Christmas, we hope the moment provides a space of peace, reflection, and excitement.