Tag Archives: Advent

Advent or Countdown to Christmas

This morning my son reminded me: “Don´t forget the Adventskalender, and the Adventskranz, and the Christmasparty at school”.  I sighed and silently envied Francesca. She can look forward to Christmas in her own stride, while for me, the countdown to Christmas starts on November 30th – der Erste Advent, the first of four Sundays running up to Christmas.

Advent traditionally means a time of “Besinnlichkeit”. A German considers this to be a time in the year where the hectic rhythm of everyday life is supposed to slow down. Together with family and friends, you spend relaxed Sunday afternoons eating gingerbread and Christmas cookies. Flickering candles create an atmosphere of Gemütlichkeit. Four candles are arranged on a pine wreath called Adventskranz. On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle, on the second, two candles are burning, three on the third, four on the fourth. The children get their Adventskalender. From Dezember 1st till Dezember 24, they either open little cardboard doors on the traditional Adventskalender filled with chocolate, or their mothers fill little red-and-green numbered felt-sachets with Lego-blocks or other “Schnick-Schnack”. Sometimes an Adventskalender will be shown on a large scale. I know a small village in Austria with  24 houses. To form a landscaped Adventscalender, one house after the other lights a window at night so that on December 24, the whole village is an Adventskalender with 24 lights burning.

On “Erster Advent”, the “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas market) opens as well. Traditionally, it takes place in the town centre, near the Rathaus (Town Hall) or the main church. Small stands sell handmade artwork  like beewax candles, wooden playthings, jewellery, knitted socks, and Christmas decorations. Children love the Weihnachtsmarkt at night because of the glimmering lights and tempting smell of sweets like candied almonds and gingerbread. Adults love it because of the Glühwein.

Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is one of the great pleasures of winter in Germany. Whenever adults have to spend some time outdoors in cold winter, they find Glühwein on offer: After the Sankt Martin`s procession, at the ice skating rink, for lunch in ski resorts, and on the Weihnachtsmarkt. Glühwein is made from red wine, spiced with orange slices, clove and a cinnamon stick. The typical Advent feeling in Germany is cold feet, warm hands, tongue-burning wine and a headache the next day.

“Lass uns einen Glühwein auf dem Weinhnachtsmarkt trinken” (Let´s meet to drink a hot mulled wine on the Christmas Market) is the most common phrase among friends and colleagues in December. These informal meetings add to the row of official Christmas parties that make the life of couples with kids feel rather like the countdown to a rocket launch than a “besinnliche Adventszeit”.

Every year I´m amazed how Christmas parties can multiply. There are the parties at work: the big party for the whole company, the smaller parties in the department, the eating out with business partners or team-members and the Glühwein (hot mulled wine) drinking with your office colleagues on the Weihnachtsmarkt. As it is tradition to invite spouses to the Christmas parties, an average couple will have four to six Christmas parties in Dezember. With one child, they will have at least two more: at school and at the daycare center. With two children, another two. Additionally most Germans are members of not only one club, but at least two or three, and each of this clubs is proud to invite to its own Christmas party.

This morning, my organizer showed ten Christmas parties till December 20th. That was when my son told me, that his teacher wants me to call her to organize the Christmas party for his class. I haven´t called her yet …. maybe she will forget?

And yet, deep in my heart, I feel the urge to invite my friends to an “Adventskaffee” to my house, to eat cookies, drink coffee, talk and laugh, and watch the beeswax candles on my Advent wreath burning down. I am pondering this idea for weeks now and I don´t dare to send out the invitations. Maybe I could do it in January, as a “Postvent”?

But this will be another story


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Anticipating Christmas

A local paper recently published a request by the Department of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) for the Army Headquarters in Wiesbaden. The Department was asking German families to invite two American soldiers to their homes for Christmas.


The article surprised me, because American soldiers, families and military bases have disappeared from Frankfurt, Darmstadt and many other towns. We are getting used to their absence and the little article was a reminder of the remaining pockets of presence such as Wiesbaden, Heidelberg or Kaiserslautern. It is also a reminder that in this season there are people who celebrate far from home, in a country unfamiliar in language and tradition, despite the fact that many of them can claim roots in this very country.


I hope they don’t forget to tell the soldiers that the gifts are distributed on the eve of the 24th of December, that the two following days are holidays as well and the “Christkind” (Christchild) delivers the presents in Germany.


It is a commendable idea to allow soldiers, far from family and friends, to enjoy a few hours each day in a holiday spirit and I would like to make a recommendation to the host families. Why not get to know your guests four weeks before, at the beginning of the “Adventszeit”, a uniquely German tradition and time?


I only came to my “Adventskranz” (Wreath of Advent made of fir branches) when I had children of my own. As a child I could only admire it in the houses of friends, as my mother was not keen on adopting this tradition. Adventskränze where often left forgotten with their candles lit on dinner tables, and caused more than one dining room to burn down. But that Adventskranz is at the centre of a well loved tradition.


When my children were in Kindergarten, and after the Martinszug celebrations where over, Christmas “Basteln” (handicraft) preparations started. We parents were invited to create Adventskränze, to be sold at the Christmas Bazaar. It was fun to learn how to wrap the different types of fir around a straw circle, tightening it all down with a fine wire and then decorating it as tastefully as possible, finally crowning the composition with four candles.


It was so much fun, I was glad to get a chance to make several “Adventskränze”. After all the years in Germany I finally got my own Adventskranz and was initiated into the secret, but not so hard, art of preparing one and the smell of the firs was fantastic! (Of course I never left the candles to burn unattended when it stood on my dining table.)


Germans even have a little saying about Advent:

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier –
dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.

Advent, Advent, a small light burns,

First one, then two, then three, then four –

then the Christkind is in front of your door.

Here is the cheeky version

Advent, Advent
Ein Lichtlein brennt
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei ,dann vier
Dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür
Und wenn das fünfte Lichtlein brennt
Dann hast Du Weihnachten verpennt

and when the fifth light burns

then have you Christmas “verpennt” (overslept)


The children baked cookies during Kindergarten hours and packed them into little plastic bags decorated with Christmas motives. The cookies themselves were shaped like bells, or Nikolaus (NOT Santa Claus) or stars and hearts with the help of cookie cutters. These cookies then went on sale with the Adventskränze. Christmas smelled of fir, shared learning and butter cookies.


So why not ask your soldier guests into your home four weeks before Christmas as you assemble around a festive table, decorated with a birthday wreath of green and four candles that take four weeks to light (one more on each Sunday). Maybe even ask him to help you make the wreath and let your guests light the first candle which heralds the anticipation of Christmas.


Some of the guests have the chance to restore a tradition to their cultural memory. Heritage is valuable to a human being because it gives confidence in who he is and why. Others might not have the same heritage, but will appreciate that they are invited to share the serenity and beauty of a ritual that celebrates peace.


And when your guests return on the eve of the 24th of December, they come home to friends and traditions; most precious gifts to receive at Christmas.


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