When I was in Denmark for First Advent, I got a surprise. It was a gift. I mean a real gift, like something we would normally get for Christmas. It was nice, but I felt guilty I hadn’t gotten gifts for my hosts. They said it was only for kids. I wasn’t exactly a kid, but it was the parents of my boyfriend who had given the gift.
Now, I’m in Germany and there are Advent wreaths. In fact, today is the first Advent. So, what is Advent?
I asked people from all over Germany and they told stories of being excited about lighting the candles as children. I had already been googling and all I could find was religious meanings. When I asked them about the religious background, they really had no idea.
Here’s what I found out from googling.
Advent means “coming” in Latin and in many Western Christian churches is the time leading up to Christmas.
According to Wikipedia, “Advent is the beginning of the Western¬†liturgical year¬†and commences on the¬†fourth Sunday¬†before¬†Christmas, the Sunday nearest to¬†St. Andrew’s Day¬†(30 November), in the¬†Roman Rite¬†of the¬†Catholic Church, and in the¬†Anglican,¬†Lutheran,¬†Moravian,¬†Presbyterian¬†and¬†Methodist¬†calendars.¬†In the¬†Ambrosian Rite¬†and the¬†Mozarabic Rite¬†of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after¬†St. Martin’s Day¬†(11 November).“
Wow! For me, that’s a lot of new information. It’s enough to say it’s the time to prepare for Christmas. The Advent wreath or crown is a Lutheran tradition that has spread to some other denominations. Like I said, most Germans have one and just use it to celebrate the holiday. They have no connection to its religious origin. Usually there are four candles. If there is a fifth, it goes in the middle and is lit on Christmas Eve (DE) or Christmas Day (US).
The original concept began in the 16th century.¬†Johann Hinrich Wichern¬†(1808‚Äď1881) was a Protestant pastor who did a lot of work with the poor. He worked in one mission school called the¬†Rauhes Haus.
Every day the kids would ask him, “When’s Christmas?”
In 1839 he took a wagon wheel and put 24 small and 4 large candles on it. Each day leading up to Christmas, the kids lit a candle, the large white ones being lit on Sundays.
The idea caught on and in the 19th century was down-sized to the four candle wreath we see today. It was at this time that Advent calendars also became popular. The original Advent wreaths were circular, representing the hope of eternal life that Jesus brought, but they can come in just about any form these days.
The first candle is for hope, the second for peace, the third for joy and the fourth for love. I think we can agree that those are all universally good things to wish for, religious or not.
Here’s hoping you have a happy first Advent!