Wednesday 19 December 2012

How an Old Cartwheel Became an Advent Wreath

When I was growing up, we always celebrated the Advent season at church.  I remember the minister lighting a candle each Sunday in the month of December.  The anticipation of Christmas was awesome!  In Rob's family, however, they did not celebrate Advent at church, but at home.  They would light a candle on their advent wreath, sing Christmas carols, including several German ones, and crack open walnuts until their hearts were content (Rob's shells would fly across the room into his sister's lap).  Rob has great memories of the Advent season.

I decided to Google the history of the advent wreath.  In Medieval Times, Advent was a time of fasting waiting for the second coming of Jesus.  In more recent times, Advent has been a waiting for the celebration of Christ's birth.  Where did the origin of the advent wreath begin?  Back in 1839, Protestant pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern got tired of his students asking him how many more days it was until Christmas.  So he took an old cartwheel and fashioned it into an advent wreath, adding holes for 23 candles, one for each day leading up to Christmas Eve, when Germans would open their presents.  The nineteen small red candles were to be lit, one each day, for every day of the week except Sunday.  The four large white candles were to be lit on the four Sundays before Christmas.

It took decades, but the religious tradition caught on elsewhere, being adopted by the Roman Catholics in the 1920's and by German Lutheran immigrants in North America in the 1930's.  The English also followed the tradition.  At some point, the 23 candle wreath was reduced to a four or five candle wreath.  In homes, the wreath usually contains four candles while at church they had five.  They represented:  hope, peace, joy and love.  The fifth was the Christ candle.

Rob and I have combined our two traditions nowadays, celebrating Advent both at church and at home.  We have an old wreath that my Mom used to hang on her front door along with a new base with spaces for four candles.  We light one each Sunday, sing Christmas carols (three rounds in which everyone has a pick) and crack and eat walnuts.  Jacqueline seems to have inherited Rob's love of this tradition.  When our kids were babies, we would put them in their high chairs and they would scream during our sing-along as if we were practising some form of Chinese torture on them.  As toddlers, they would run in a circle from the living room into the kitchen and back into the living room again.  Jacqueline went through a stage where when asked what she wanted to sing, she would always say "Happy Birthday".

Last Sunday, we had Jacqueline's friend Ella over and the two girls swayed back and forth as they sang "Winter Wonderland".  Two Sundays ago, Thomas' birthparents joined us.  While they sang, Thomas propped his book in front of him, all the while texting on his hidden cellphone.  Lance warned him that Santa was watching!

I hope that when our kids grow up they will continue this tradition with their children.  And to think that it all started with an old cartwheel in Germany.

"I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12)

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Linda - I tried contacted you via email but the message bounced back. Can you contact me at

    Rose McCormick Brandon