Katlyn lives in Germany, along with her American family. Today she shares with us about her family’s Christmas traditions…
Our family moved to Hamburg, Germany in 2010. During our first December, every where we went, whether in the Christmas markets, the grocery store, floral shops, or at the weekly produce market, we saw Advent wreaths for sale. The average price for a wreath ranged from $10-$60. We would soon discover that having an evergreen wreaths with four candles in your home and lighting one candle each Sunday was a very popular and important German tradition.
For most Americans, the Christmas tree illuminates the house with light during the cold and dark days of winter. However, in Germany, the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree does not happen until Christmas Eve. Usually the parents alone will decorate the tree while the children wait in expectation in another room until the time is come for the revealing of the Christmas Tree. The glow of the candles on the Advent Wreath radiates the house with light and brings expectancy as one waits for Christmas Day to arrive.
As we did a little more research into the Advent Wreath, we discovered that the first Advent wreath was invented by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant Minister in Hamburg, Germany in 1839. Johann worked as a missionary among the poor. One of the ways he ministered to the poor was by offering his time and services in an orphanage. To help contain the children’s excitement leading up to Dec. 25th, he created the first Advent wreath for the children. The first wreath had twenty-eight candles, four of those candles were larger than the others to indicate the Advent Sundays. During the daily prayer, a child would light a candle. This continued each day until Christmas Eve during which all the candles were finally illuminated.
The tradition of lighting the Advent candels continued in Hamburg, and then spread throughout Germany. As the tradition spread, the number of candles on the wreath were reduced to four and were lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In 1930, the custom of the Advent Wreath spread to North America.
Many people today simply enjoy lighting the candles and having the wreath as their centerpiece on their table. They are unaware of the symbolic meaning the wreath holds. The evergreen leaves represent the hope of eternal life through Jesus. The circular nature of the wreath representing God’s infinite love for mankind. The four candles which represent the for weeks of the Advent season stand for hope, people, joy and love. Some wreaths also include a fifth candle, the “Christ candle” that is lit on Christmas Eve.
As our family has made our home in Germany, we’ve also begun to take part in this tradition as we’ve celebrated each Advent Sunday and lit our candles as a family. It’s been a very meaningful time for us each year, as we’ve prepared our hearts for Christmas Day and pondered on the meaning of the Advent wreath and the candles.