Advent isn't a holiday per se - rather, it indicates the time before christmas. The term stems from the latin 'adventus', which means arrival, and, of course, refers to the birth of Jesus on christmas itself.
In general, Advent is when you start decorating your house, baking christmas cookies and eating all the yummy sweets that go with it - like dominoes, gingerbread, christmas-flavoured chocolate, and so on (although they start selling these about mid-october nowadays...). The christmas tree itself is traditionally not set up until christmas eve, but some people put their nativity up early (Felix' grandma for example - hers is really stunning and impressive and takes up several tables, I'll try to take a picture for you guys later).
Now, there are two distinct ways to count down the time to christmas, and for each there is a tradition to go with it. You probably all now of the first one: The Adventskalender (advent calendar), counting the days from December 1st to the 24th. Those are really popular in German, you can get some with pictures or poems, books with 24 little stories (or one story with 24 chapters - I still have ma favourite from when I was a kid, it was the story of the clumsy little angel Plotsch, who came into heaven [one German Christmas tradition is that the angels in heaven make all the gifts for Christmas], trying to help but making a mess everywhere he went, until he finally found something he was good at), and of course all kinds with sweets and chocolates - almost every sweets manufacturer also produces an advent calender. And then there are some with toys, like Playmobil or Lego, and for adults they have advent calendars with tea, cosmetics, juwelry or even with 24 differnt brands of beer. Of course there are also some with 24 boxes or little sacks you can fill yourself, my grandma always used to do that for me when I was a child. I still love them, and we have actually four this year: One with pictures and poems my grandma got me, one with M&Ms I got from Felix, I made and filled one for him and we also have one from Ikea (with chocolate and two gift cards) that we share.
The other way of counting is counting the sundays before christmas - you start four sundays before christmas eve and call it the First Advent - depending on what day of the week christmas falls on, this can already be in November. So today is actually the Third Advent, next sunday will be the Fourth. There are special services at church these four Advent Sundays, and at home, many people will have an Adventskranz (Advent Wreath). It's traditionally a wreath,but can take a number of different shapes: We used to decorate a flat bowl with moss and fir branches and stuff like that, and the one we bought this year is actually in a cake tin. What they all have in common, though, is four candles, and each sunday, you lit one more. You can light them on the other days of the week as well as you want, but you only add more on the sundays, so that all four are lit on the Fourth Advent. There are many songs and poems that go with this tradition, but this one is probably best known:
ein Lichtlein brennt
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier
Dann steht Weihnachten vor der Tür!
A light is lit
First one, then two, then three, then four
Then christmas's knocking at the door!
And kids like to add:
Und wenn das fünfte Lichtlein brennt
Dann hast du Weihnachten verpennt.
Which means: If you light a fifth light, you have missed Christmas...boo!
|Part of our setup, with two of our Advent calendars|
and the Advent-caketin