Counting down to Christmas


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 calendarAdvent 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 Nina's advent calendartakeaway 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

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.Advent "wreath"

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!

Advent Wreath Advent Wreath

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.

This post is part of the 2011 Virtual Advent Tour which is hosted by Kailana from The Written World and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader

and my first post for

My 24 days of Christmas


Advent calendar images from flickr member and Nina at Stylizimo. Top advent wreath image by flickr member Niklas Bildhauer

37 Comments Write a comment

  1. The object I really love in German Christmas markets and am always *this close* to getting is those wooden little wind mills that go round because of the heat of the candles. Know which ones I mean?

    You should do one about German Xmas markets next year, they are lovely. I usually go to the one in Cologne, because it’s closer.
    Alex (The Sleepless Reader)’s last post ..The Great Belgian Book Exchange


    • Yes, I know which ones you mean. They are called “Pyramide” and they are really nice. I might actually make a post about those wooden decorations, must think about that.

      There will be a post coming up about our Christmas market (obviously I am ignoring all the others as ours is the most famous one, :)). Not sure when exactly, but some time in the next three weeks…


  2. One of my favourite things about this event is finding out about the different holiday traditions from places around the world. This was interesting to read about. Thanks for sharing!

    And thank you for joining in for this years Virtual Advent Calendar!
    Kailana’s last post ..Tuning in on Thursday – Week 5


  3. Nice post, Rikki. Last night, I realised we didn’t buy advent calendars this year. It’s not a big thing in the Netherlands but since the kids are half English, it would have been nice. Christmas is just coming too soon for us!

    Are you doing a post a day before Christmas? I’ll be looking out for them. Nice!
    Leeswammes (Judith)’s last post ..Number Crunching


    • Ah, no calendars! What a shame!
      Yes, I will be doing on christmas-y post every day up to the 24th.


    • I will – IF I can remember to make it. I am terrible with getting things done in time. 🙂


  4. I so enjoyed reading this! I hadn’t thought about how long Advent calendars had been around or the different forms of them. It is always good to have a visual reminder, especially for kids, of how many days until Christmas. We would make paper chains counting down from December 1 through Christmas Eve and the kids could remove a paper chain a day until there was one left, of which they were always excited!

    Great entry for the Virtual Advent tour; thanks for sharing!

    betty’s last post ..Oh Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree


    • The paper chains sound like fun, and easy to make, too. Great idea! Yes, especially kids need something like that, otherwise they ask nonstop “How many sleeps???”


  5. I’m not familiar with the Wreath Advent tradition–I’m so glad you shared it with us. We always had an advent calendar growing up–my favorite was one with a little bear that we would move around a piece of fabric with a house pattern. Wonder what happened to that… I don’t have an advent calendar for my own home yet, but Pinterest does have many tempting ones!! Hope you have a wonderful holiday season.
    Trish’s last post ..Making a Tradition – 2011 Advent Tour


  6. Years ago I was given an Advent wreath, except I had no idea what it was and I never did anything with it! Thanks for enlightening me, and thank you for being brave enough to go first in this year’s tour! I will definitely be back to see more of your 24 days of Christmas posts.
    Marg’s last post ..Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer


    • What a pity you had no clue what it was! They can be a really wonderful Christmas decoration. If you ever make or use one, make sure to share it with us!


  7. We had an Advent Calendar that was a felt well hanging with a house on it. It came with a little bear that you could move around the house as the bear searched for Christmas gifts. Along the bottom of the wall hanging was a list of places: On Day 1 Little Bear looked under the stairs and so forth. On Christmas the list directed you under the tree and a little flap lifted up to show the gifts. Of course, it didn’t take long for us to lose the little bear but it was still a cute Advent Calendar. As a child I had no clue what it really was but it was fun.

    This was a fascinating post. Thank you for sharing

    Patricia @ Lady with Books
    Patricia @ Lady with Books’s last post ..Book Review: Yesterday’s Magic by Pamela F. Service


    • Patricia, your calendar sounds a lot like Trish’s. I wonder whether it was the same one!? I am sure it was great fun.


  8. My kids had Advent calendars that involved putting the numbers on little pegs – lots of fun but the tiny numbers kept getting lost and then there were arguments….typical kid stuff. I made an advent calendar for my grandsons last year – 24 envelopes in a decorated box with a small prize and a note from a family member inside. They waited till mom left the room and opened them all 🙂 So much for that hard work.

    Thanks for sharing the history of the calendars and some ideas – maybe I’ll give it another try.
    Tami’s last post ..The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


  9. Making and filling a calendar is a lot of work, I know. That is why I nowadays take the easy way and buy them ready made. Tami, I know the “eat the whole thing in one day” all too well. It annoyed me so much when that happened. Thank God my kids are better now and a bit more patient.


  10. When I was a kid, my brother and I each used to get one of those cardboard advent calendars with chocolates inside, and we have a big, cloth Christmas Tree-shaped advent calendar with a little Santa Claus that you put inside the new day’s pocket every morning. Whenever I have kids of my own, the advent calendar is one tradition I’m definitely keeping up, because it’s a lot of fun. 🙂
    Colleen @ Les Livres’s last post ..Teaser Tuesday #9 – Tempest


    • Colleen, it is. My kids love their calendars. Opening the windows is the first thing they do each morning.


  11. I really enjoyed that we both wrote about advent calendars, from very different perspectives! that is fun. I liked reading about the history behind them. Your wreaths are lovely and imaginative. Yes, my daughter might be interested in making one soon. I’m not very crafty, though I do appreciate all the thought and work that goes into them.

    I hope you have a lovely holiday season. Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my blog as well. I’ll be checking back here more often!


    • Thanks, Susan, for stopping by. You don’t need to be especially crafty for making the wreath. If you buy a ready made wreath all you need to do is decorate with christmas items. No biggie!


  12. A lovely and informative post. As a child I always had a chocolate advent calender and would wait impatiently for the days to come around. I always look at them at the Christmas displays, but it seems a bit of a waste to make a more sophisticated one for two adults, even if my husband is a Christmas baby!


    • Julie, you wouldn’t believe the adult calendars they are selling over here. And if you make it yourself you can fill it with very sophisticated gifts.


  13. I loved the history behind the Advent calendars and the wreath, thank you! As a kid, I never liked the chocolate calendars but my sister did. It got harder and harder for my parents to find me a calendar that was pretty and had only images behind each window. I sure did give them the run around this time of year! I now have an Advent calendar on my iphone, so I’m happy about that. 😉

    I LOVE the idea of a building as Advent calendar! That would be so exciting to see, I wish they did that here.
    Cat’s last post ..a letter to my blog


    • Cat, you wanted one WITHOUT chocolate? Now that is unusual. Most kids insist on chocolate (or toys). Images won’t do the trick.


  14. Advent Calendars are not very popular in Slovenia, but we have a strong tradition of Advent wreaths (probably a tradition that came to us from Germany) and love making my own from scratch every year. Great post!


    • Thanks, Pepca. I am looking forward to reading your post for the tour later on this month.


  15. Last year I found a Lindt chocolate advent calendar and put them in my Starbuck advent calender that I purchased about 4 years ago (it has little boxes that one turns around to make a picture; the nice thing is that you can reuse the Starbucks one and put in your own little treats each year).
    Melissa W.’s last post ..Advent Tour – Looking forward


    • That sounds like a nice idea for an advent calendar. So at the end of Advenmt the picture is complete, I like that.


  16. Thank you for sharing these traditions with us. I really did not know that much about Advent until recently.


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