Marking the Advent Season

Celebrating Advent is an important part of Christmas in Germany. For Christians of both Protestant and Roman Catholic, it is a time of quiet contemplation that begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve.

Advent calendars

Advent Calendar, (c) picture-alliance/dpa-Bildarchiv Enlarge image In 1998, this giant advent calendar in Friedrichsfehn was the largest in the world. (© picture-alliance/dpa-Bildarchiv) This German invention became a custom at the turn of the 20th century and has since advanced to worldwide popularity.

Advent calendars in Germany have 24 small windows or doors that open to reveal a picture, candy or other small gift. Needless to say, it is a favorite with children because it helps them pass the long waiting time until December 24th, called Heiligabend in Germany. That is the evening on which presents are shared in Germany.

Many families put great effort into crafting their own special calendars. Also a seemingly endless variety of calendars can be found in stores—from simple cardboard panels hiding chocolate to elaborate three-dimensional structures containing toys.

Advent wreaths

Lighting the Advent Candle Enlarge image Lighting an Advent wreath candle is a cherished tradition. (© Colourbox) An Advent wreath—often made of evergreen branches and usually decorated with four candles—is one of the most popular symbols of the season. On the four Sundays in Advent families often gather to light the candles and to sing carols and read Christmas stories together.

The evergreen wreath has its roots in the northern city of Hamburg, where in 1839 a wreath was hung in the prayer hall of the Rauhes Haus charity. This arrangement made of pine branches found favor in the homes of Protestant families, particularly those living in northern Germany. In the 1920s, though, Roman Catholics began to adopt the custom too.

Originally decorated with 24 candles, one for each day of Advent, the number has long been reduced to four, symbolizing the four Sundays before Christmas.

Marking the Advent Season