Germany’s Advent wreath tradition, and how to make one of your own

Germany’s Advent wreath tradition, and how to make one of your own

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

While calling Germany home, you’re apt to hear the term Advent used more often than you would stateside. Not only is the Advent season marked by traditional activities from caroling to cookie baking; terms such as first through fourth Advent weekend are used to date events such as Christmas markets in small towns that typically take place over just a single weekend.

Advent is a Latin term for coming, and the time at which the arrival of Christ is anticipated. The Advent season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, or the Sunday that falls closest to Nov. 30, and ends on Dec. 24. Its start date can fall as early as Nov. 27 and as late as Dec. 3. In 2021, the first Advent Sunday falls on Nov. 28.

According to some beliefs, each of the four Advent Sundays has a particular focus: hope, love, joy and peace.

A tradition that arose in Germany in the early 19th century and remains popular to date is the creation of an Advent wreath and the use of candles as a countdown to Christmas day. The wreath is fashioned of evergreen branches and decorated with four candles, one for each of the Advent Sundays. On the first Advent Sunday, a single candle is lit; on the second, both the original and a second candle are set alight, and so on. In some practices, a fifth candle is also lit on Christmas day.

A popular pastime for family and friends is getting together to make such a wreath. Materials needed include a round hoop made of straw, four identical candles (pillar or taper), florist’s wire and pine or spruce branches. As the wreath is meant to lie flat, the branches are affixed to the top half of the hoop only. Once the branches have been fastened by means of wrapping wire around them in a spiraling fashion, the candles are attached. This can be achieved by setting spikes into the bottom of the candles and inserting them directly into the greenery; alternately, lightweight candle holders can be affixed with a glue gun. Decorations for the wreath typically include ribbons and natural-looking decor such as small straw figure ornaments, cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, berries, walnuts, pinecones or other such materials gathered during a stroll through the forest. Placing the wreath on a large plate or serving tray can make it less susceptible to breakage as it is moved around.

On each successive Sunday, the light and warmth emitted from the ever-increasing number of candles will increase in proportion to the anticipation of Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth.

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