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Waiting for Christmas

By Edited Jan 30, 2016 2 3
The Townhall of Gengenbach

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere is a time of darkness and cold. We may enjoy winter sports or not: It's always nice to come home and get comfortable and cosy with a hot drink (and some cookies or chocolates?), and perhaps to brighten up the dullness of a grey day with a few candles or fairy lights.

Those who celebrate Christmas may look forward to it with mixed emotions - anything is possible during these few week: dread, stress, and nervous irritation as well as joyful bustling, secret activities and excited expectation. The most impatient and curious of all are children, who can't wait to see what presents they will get for Christmas this year.

"Waiting for Christmas" is not a phenomenon of our "modern times" only. Here a few traditions, with ideas for how to adapt them – we all can bring some colour, sweetness and light into our lives, and the lives of others!


"Advent" is simply the Latin word for "arrival". In the 6th Century A.D. Pope Gregor introduced "Advent" into the Christian liturgy. The Advent period begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on 24th December (in Eastern Orthodox churches: the fourty days before Christmas). Liturgically, Advent is meant to be a time of repentance and preparation. It is accompanied by saint's holidays: St. Barbara on 4th December, St. Lucia (Lucy) on 13th December, and, probably the one known best, Saint Nicholas on 6th December.

  • St. Barbara: On 4th December, cut a cherry twig and place in a vase with water. Keep it in a warm room, and by Christmas the buds should have turned into blossons. – You can also use sprigs from other flowering trees or shrubs, like plum, apple, lila, or forsythia.
  • Saint Nicholas - Sinterklaas
    St. Nicholas: Before going to bed on the 5th December, put your shoes outside your door. If you have been "good" all year round, you might wake up in the morning to find your shoes filled with sweets. If you weren't, then you could get a birch instead - that is also known to happen if you put your voluminous boots out instead of your shoes ;). And if St. Nicholas thinks you deserve another chance, there just might be some candy dangling from a twig ;) – Any similarities with Christmas stockings are not accidental …

  • St. Lucy: Saint Lucy comes with lights and sweets – why not decorate your home with candles and other lights, and organize a cookie exchange party?

Advent Wreath

A traditional advent wreath on the first Sunday of Advent
The advent wreath combines the ancient symbols of the wreath (victory) and the candle (fight against darkness in life), with more interpretations having evolved over time.

In 1839 the German theologist Johann Hinrich Wichern, founder of the "Rauhes Haus" (a home for orphaned children) made a wreath with 4 large white candles for the Sundays and 19 small red candles to be lit on the weekdays in between, because the children kept asking how many days there were until Christmas ;)

The first advent wreath with four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, is said to have been displayed publicly in 1925 in a Catholic church in Cologne, Germany. On the first Sunday, the first candle is lit, the second Sunday two candles, and so forth, until all four candles are lit during the week prior to Christmas. - In Ireland, a fifth candle stands in the middle of the wreath for Christmas Eve.

The colour of the advent candles can be chosen according to liturgical colours, or simply for decorative purposes, with red, white and gold/yellow being the most popular colour combination.

Any material can be used for the wreath, but twigs from fir trees or other conifers would be the most traditional. In any case, be careful to keep inflammable material away from the candles, especially dry twigs. Keep a couple of spare candles for replacement – and of course observe health & safety regulations concerning candles.

Advent Calendars

Basically, an advent calendar allows to count the days remaining until Christmas. Wichern's advent wreath can be considered the first advent calendar, with one candle for each day. Here some more ideas:

Simple advent calendars:

  • Every day, hang a small picture with a Christmas or winter motive on the wall, a window, or on a pinboard.
  • Buy a tall, thick decorative candle and divide it into 24 parts, one for each day.
  • On a door frame, make 24 lines with chalk. Every day one line is wiped off.
  • If you have a nativity scene with an empty crib, lay one straw (or a bit of hay) per day in the crib until it is filled.
  • Make a clock out of cardboard, with 24 "hours" and one hand. For each "hour", paste a small picture. Poke a hole in the middle, and attach the hand with a paper fastener.

Advent calendars with doors and windows:

  • At your local supermarket you may be able to find ready-made advent calendars with small chocolates hidden behind the windows.
  • Make your own advent calendar with cardboard and transparent paper, and attach it to a window where it catches light, but not sun. Although bright sunlight makes the colours glow more intensely, it can also cause colour to fade.

Advent calendars with wrapped presents:

Example of a Perpetual Advent Calendar

These are the most personal advent calendars. A "present" can be anything: candy, tiny toys, photographs, poems and vouchers. You can also mix, and reserve the more special gifts for the Sundays.

Such calenders may be for "this year only" (for instance hanging the gifts from a ribbon stretched across a corner of a room, and cutting them off one by one) or they may be "perpetual" (for instance little pouches or boxes which you refill each year).

"Live" advent calendars:

In some parts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland small communities get together and create a "walk-in" calendar. Each family decorates a window or a door of their house with twigs and Christmas ornaments, and shows a number from 1 to 24. On the appropriate day in December, everybody meets there for a chat, a cookie, and perhaps a glass of mulled wine.


There are many occasions during the course of a year for which you can adapt these advent calendar ideas. Here are a few for starters:

  • "One Year Till Retirement :)"
  • "Coming of Age – Soon!"
  • "Can't Wait for the Summer Holidays …"

Enjoy – and bring joy :)



Nov 17, 2009 1:25am
I had such a revisit of many memories while reading this well composed piece. I used to have my children, when they were young, put their slippers outside their bedroom doors. One Christmas morning my younger daughter opened all the gifts and did not get her heart's desire. I asked her if she looked in her slipper and she nodded no. When she looked in there the balloons she asked for were there. I remember that now, some 30 years. We all loved the Advent calendar. I am fortunate to have 3 children I am proud to call my offspring. thumbs up on a fine post. TX
Nov 17, 2009 1:35am
My husband did not know these traditions as a child. When I told him, he more or less insisted that I revive them - and he is 50+ years old :) - Thank you for sharing your memories!
Sep 3, 2010 2:01pm
My 3 all-time favourite traditions: Advent calendar, advent wreaths, and (especially) St. Nicholas Day. Thank you for posting all the back information!
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