How did wreaths become a Christmas tradition

Customs in Advent Advent wreath - four candles on pine green

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Waiting for Christmas also includes an Advent wreath: four candles stand on a green wreath, usually decorated with fir green. Why is the Advent wreath actually round? Where does the custom come from? We tell the story!

By: Bernhard Schulz and Veronika Baum

Status: 11/30/2020 | archive

Allegedly, Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor from Hamburg, invented the Advent wreath. Not quite 200 years ago he ran the "Rauhe Haus" there, a home for needy children. Like all children, the children in the home could hardly stand the long waiting time until Christmas. In 1839 Johann Hinrich Wichern came up with the brilliant idea: He took an old wooden carriage wheel and attached candles to it.

Tying an Advent wreath yourself is fun: You need a blank made of straw, wire, fir branches - and a little practice!

He used large white candles for Sundays and small red candles for the weekdays of Advent. Then he hung the candle-decorated cartwheel on the ceiling of the room where the whole household was praying. He lit another candle every day of Advent: a small one during the week and a large one on the four Sundays of Advent. The children could easily count the number of candles that had not yet burned how many days they had to wait until Christmas Eve. And every day it got a little lighter and warmer in the room ... The fact that his wreath was a round wagon wheel also suited the pastor well: So the wreath can also be seen as an image for the infinity of God, because it has no beginning and no end. The candles stand for the light that is given to people at Christmas through the birth of Jesus.

Four candles for the Advent wreath

Soon the festive candle wreath in the "Rauhen Haus" was also decorated with fir green. From Hamburg, the custom spread across the country.

In L√ľneburg in Lower Saxony, the old water tower is being transformed into a "Wichernkranz": It is one of the largest Advent wreaths in Europe.

Initially, the wreaths were mainly in Protestant churches and houses of prayer, later also in many residential buildings. From 1925, the custom also conquered the Catholic churches. With the original "Wichernkranz" - depending on the length of the Advent season - 24 to 28 candles were attached. But since there wasn't room on the ceiling in every apartment for such a large wreath of candles, the number of candles was soon limited to four: one for every Sunday in Advent.

Danger! Never leave the candles on the Advent wreath burning unattended! The best thing to do is to extinguish the candles with such a extinguishing cap.

Incidentally, the fact that it is exactly four Sundays is due to Pope Gregory I, who is also called "the Great". In the Middle Ages he decreed that Advent, the time of preparation for the "coming of the Lord", should have four Sundays. So there would be enough time to prepare for Christmas. Each of the Advent Sundays even got its own name.

In the "Rauhen Haus" in Hamburg, by the way, an Advent wreath the size of a wagon wheel with a candle is still burning for every day of Advent.