Sunday 13 December 2015

Strange German Holidays #11 - Advent

Only three more posts to go after this one!

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:

Advent, Advent, 
ein Lichtlein brennt
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier
Dann steht Weihnachten vor der Tür!

Advent, Advent
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!

Part of our setup, with two of our Advent calendars
and the Advent-caketin


Tiffstitch said...

Advent calendars were a lot of fun when I was younger and we're starting the tradition with DD this year. I also remember the Advent wreath at church and once got to light a candle when I was a server. :) Great description and sounds like you have an excellent Grandma.

Susan said...

We did both the calendar and the wreath when I was growing up. We used the same calendar every year (we bought it while living in Munich) and my sister always got the even numbers because her birthday is December 6th (so NOT what I wanted St. Nick to bring me!!). I still put one in DSon's Christmas box and love hunting for just the right one - I am a little less picky about mine. :-) I don't have many memories of our time in Germany (I was 5 when we moved) but I DO remember going downtown during Christmas (and Easter) and the displays at the bakers, candy store and toy store.

Heather said...

We never really did advent calendars because we would usually forget but I love the idea lol

Amy said...

I am so excited to find your blog! My son spent a year in Germany for school, and loved it! I was able to visit him last Christmas and spend a couple of weeks with his host family and friends, and traveling around a bit. It was wonderful! We both want to go back as soon as we can.

Christmas was beautiful there. And the Weinachtsmarkt were magical!

One of the things my son especially liked was all of your bakeries - he worked for a week at one, and he misses all of the breads and treats he could always find at the little bakeries wherever he went. ☺

I look forward to learning more about your country and traditionsee through your blog!

The Knitting Cross Stitcher said...

I still open an advent calendar and I remember the advent wresth as a child.I have two advent calendars and alternate each year.

Carla - Alaska Wolf Pack said...

My mother used to have Advent calendars for my brother and I and we would take turns opening each day to get the chocolates! I haven't seen an Advent calendar in a very long time tho.

Jo who can't think of a clever nickname said...

Advent Calendars are very important in England, almost every child will have one. When we were children my Godmother sent us one each year, it was a simple one with a different picture every day. No chocolate then!
Now my son has the Lego advent calendar and a chocolate one, plus one at his Grandparents' house. I have my Little Stitcher Advent Tree and my online calendar too (of course!)