Christmastime brings with it so many wonderful traditions. Whether you celebrate religiously or festively, or a combination of both, traditions and experiences fill our hearts during the joyful season. One thing that many homes display and actively participate with is the Advent Calendar. Whether a chocolate version, a decoration version, or the moving of a particular marker, advent calendars grace many homes starting on the first of December. But what are they? What do they symbolize? And what is the background on this tradition?

Christmas Advent Calendar
Christmas Advent Calendar

So, What is an Advent Calendar?

An Advent Calendar is a traditional countdown to Christmas starting on December 1st. The German Lutheran Christian denomination began the use of an Advent Calendar back in the late 19th century. Since then, they have become a household tradition of cheerful anticipation as the days lead up to Christmas.

Christmas Tree
Christmas Tree

What Does Advent Mean?

Advent is the anticipation and lead-up to the birth of Jesus in the Christian faith. Families count down in fun and factual ways depending on the household. The word Advent is of Latin roots and actually means “coming” which makes sense as the 24 days until Christmas are marked upon this calendar. Historians believe that the fun and religious countdown practice as a whole (not the calendar) started in the year 480. Some even believe St Peter began the tradition while others feel it was the 12 Apostles. A wonderful tradition from so far back. Incredible. So many doors swing in and swing out with fads and trends, but when it’s something so substantial and so poignant in faith, it lasts for centuries.

Advent calendar
Advent calendar

Advent Wreaths Worldwide

In Germany, it is traditional to hang an Advent Wreath. Placed on display December 1st, families will honour this time leading up to Christmas with daily readings and candles marking each day from 1-24. The tradition began in 1839 with candles being placed among the wreath boughs. The original wreaths were made of fir branches, pine cones, and tied together with red ribbon. The candles are also meticulously arranged with 19 thin tapers and 5 thicker votives. The candles and branches are symbolic of victory, life, hope, and honour to God for all time. Coniferous trees are used as they live through all seasons and do not shed their pine needles easily or often.

Advent Wreath
Advent Wreath

Other countries have adapted the Advent wreath from the original German variation. In Sweden instead of red tapers, white candles are used to commemorate the festive time of year, with the crown shape saved for there much loved and revered Saint Lucia, whose life is celebrated on December 13th.

Sweden Advent Calendar
Sweden Advent Calendar

Here in Canada traditionalists who decorate their home with the symbolic Advent wreath over Laura Secord’s chocolate calendar, use beautiful light purple and pink candles. These bright pink candles signify the end of the wait time for the birth of Christ and the purple are for penance.

Advent Wreath Canada
Advent Wreath Canada

So, do you have an Advent Calendar or Advent wreath in your home? How do you decorate it? Although the wreath we hang does not hold candles in our home, our faith and anticipation for the beautiful night of the nativity holds strong in our hearts. And admittedly, we also have the chocolate calendars for a daily treat leading up to one of the most important celebrations in our faith. Merry Christmas and don’t forget to set up your calendar/wreath by December 1st.

Advent Calendar and Wreath Traditions Worldwide
Advent Calendar and Wreath Traditions Worldwide

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