Welcome to the 2011 Virtual Advent Tour!
Today is December 1 and everybody is starting to count down to Christmas. I want to tell you a little bit about two ways of counting down to Christmas that are very common in Germany.
The Advent calendar
Advent calendars were known since the 19th century. It is a Christian tradition and shows how many days are left until Christmas. At fist they were self made with, for example, an image hung on the wall every day until there were 24. The simplest form were probably 24 chalk strokes on the wall and the kids were allowed to wipe one off every day. In the 1920s advent calendars were produced with 24 small windows behind which Christian images were hidden.
Nowadays mass product advent calendars most often contain chocolate behind each little window. The quality goes from very cheap (some calendars with chocolate are less than 1 EUR) to very expensive (I think the most expensive ones I have seen were about 30 EUR). Even though the main target group for advent calendars are children, they more and more make them for adults with high quality chocolate, truffles and what not.
In the last few years toy advent calendars have become very popular. Brands like Lego or Playmobil produce them with a toy behind each window. On the 24th the child has a full set of toys that co-ordinate and make a nice scene.
Then there is the self made kind. You can see a few examples here on Pinterest. The homemade kind where you can let your imagination run wild (I have seen awesome advent calendars made from takeaway containers or takeaway beverage cups) can be filled with anything you want. Toys, sweets, books, small things, big things. Everything goes. My project for 2012 will be a calendar that Nina at Stylizimo made this year. On her blog she shows you how to create this wonderful, non- traditional calendar made with clothes pegs.
There are even building advent calendars. 24 windows of the building usually have the shutters closed and they are numbered. Every evening one of the windows open (usually with some ceremony) and there might be a sort of tombola. Often this is done in connection with a Christmas market with stalls offering food and drink, children’s roundabouts etc. My home town has one of them at the town hall. You can see it here. It is all very nice and cosy and puts everybody into the right Christmas mood.
Advent calendars are a fun way to count down to Christmas. The only problem is that you must be disciplined enough to leave the windows alone until it is their turn – and I am speaking from experience.
The Advent Wreath
Green wreaths with candles were used in Northern Europe long before Christianity arrived here. To use a wreath as a way to count down to Christmas was supposedly invented by a Lutheran pastor in Northern Germany in the 19th century. Johann Hinrich Wichern took care of boys in a mission school and was asked daily how many more days to Christmas. So he came up with the idea of a wreath with four bigger candles for the four advent Sundays and smaller candles in between them for the weekdays. So the number of candles then varied depending on what weekday Christmas Day was going to be.
Nowadays an advent wreath only has four candles for the four Sundays with possibly one in the middle for Christmas Day. The colors used can depend on the church people belong to, the country they live in or simply on personal taste.
Advent wreaths can be bought in shops ready made in all colors you can imagine, you can order them specially made for you, you can buy a plain wreath and decorate it yourself or you make your own from scratch. They can be made from evergreens, wood, metal or any other material you can think of. You can see a lot of different ones on Pinterest here and here with plenty of inspiration. At Family Chic you can see how Camilla Fabbri made a beautiful, non-traditional advent wreath in silver and blue with nuts and glass balls. To the right you see a very unusual advent “wreath” that I saw in Erfurt in a window last year. So you see, advent wreaths don’t have to be either round or a wreath at all. The antler of a reindeer will do!
It is a tradition to light the candles counter clockwise. Don’t ask me why!
Decorating an advent wreath is a fun activity to do with little kids. It doesn’t take too much time and the result can be very pretty without too much expense. Above you can see our advent wreath that we decorated ourselves with small Christmas items that accumulated over the years.
Thanks for taking the time to read my little excursion into two popular traditions of counting down to Christmas. Make sure you also visit the other blogs sharing Christmas-y treats with us all. You can find all participants at Virtual Advent Tour.
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