Advent traditions

vintage advent calendar

The season of Advent begins today. Do you use an Advent calendar? This tradition – as well as that of the Advent wreath – originated in Germany and would have been part of Christmas preparations for many of the German settlers here in Australia.

Advent (Latin – ‘to come’) is a time of anticipation and preparation leading up to Christmas. The traditions developed as a way of marking the days and preparing hearts and minds.

Pastor Wichern, a German pastor

Pastor Wichern

The Advent Wreath

In 1839 a German Lutheran pastor, Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern, ran an orphan asylum in Hamburg. He wanted to make the anticipation of Christmas more pleasant for his children. So he placed candles on a wooden wheel hub – twenty small red candles around the outside, and four large white candles. Every evening he and the children gathered together and lit one of the candles, and then spent time praying and singing together. The children must have really looked forward to it! The red candles were lit on weekdays, and the four white candles were lit on Sundays.

children around advent wheel

The advent wheel helped children mark the days until Christmas.

As the custom caught on, the Advent wreath was eventually created out of evergreens, symbolizing everlasting life in the midst of winter and death.   The circle reminds us of God’s unending love. Now it has just 4 candles around the outside, and each candle represents a theme – hope, love, joy and peace. Every Sunday in Advent, another candle is lit. There may also be a candle in the middle – the Christ candle – which is lit on Christmas Eve.

The Advent Calendar

vintage advent calendar

Marking the days…

People loved the idea of marking down the days, and soon found different ways to do it. At first, many people kept track of the days by making chalk marks on their door, which were rubbed off one by one as Christmas got closer.

Lighting Advent Candles or putting up a small religious picture in the window each day were other ways of counting down the days. Some people prepared a crib for the baby Jesus by adding a piece of straw each day.

advent calendar with chocolates

Chocolates are always welcome…

The first actual Advent calendar was produced in the early 1900s. Mass production began in 1908 by Gerhard Lang, who worked at the Reichhold & Lang printing office in Munich, Germany. Soon many different styles were produced, usually lavishly decorated. Gerhard remembered how, when he was a child, his mother created an Advent board for him on which she placed 24 biscuits and let him eat one each day. This gave him the idea of having gifts or chocolates hidden away, to keep the children’s attention (works for adults, too!). In 1930, Lang initiated the production of chocolate box-like Advent Calendars with 24 windows filled with chocolates. The idea proved to be an incredible success!

advent wreath

The wreath is full of symbolism.

Does your family have an Advent calendar? Today there are many different ways of marking the days in this wonderful season of the year. No matter how you count down (or perhaps don’t), may each of these days be full of the hope, love, joy and peace symbolised by the Advent Wreath candles.



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