The Advent Wreath – a Symbol of Faith or a Decorative Accessory?

It’s a must-have for every living room in the run up to Christmas – the advent wreath. In local farmhouses it is given pride of place at the centre of the wooden dining table, underneath the crucifix; a glowing symbol of warmth and peace. Yet, it is actually nothing more than a small crown of fir twigs decorated with four red candles and four red bows.

Trendy advent wreaths

©Elisabeth Frontull

Created by Elisabeth Frontull

So what are the origins of the advent calendar? I did some research on the internet and found out.

 

The Wichern Advent Wreath 

It is thought that the advent wreath was invented in Germany by the protestant theologian and mission worker, Johann Hinrich Wichern  in 1839. At the time he was working with poverty stricken children in a school in Hamburg. During advent the children were constantly asking when Christmas would finally come, so he used an old cartwheel to build them a “calendar”, a wooden ring with 24 small, red candles and four large white candles. The small, red candles symbolised the work days, the four large white candles represented the Sundays. The countdown to Christmas was marked by lighting a candle every day until Christmas Eve. 

 

Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

The original symbolism of the wreath lies in the coming of light in the run up to Christmas. This represents the growing anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is referred to in Christianity as the “Light of the World”. Further symbolism has been identified in the circular form of the wreath (symbolic of a globe), the four candles (pointing to heaven) as well as in the colour of the candles and bows. In the Catholic church, three of the candles are usually violet and one is rose-coloured, corresponding to the historic colour of the liturgical vestments during advent. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday in advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. This is traditionally a joyous occasion just before Christmas Eve and, therefore, in celebration the liturgical vestments are changed from violet to rose. 

Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull
Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull
Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull
©Elisabeth Frontull

The 4-Candle Advent Wreath

The modern advent wreath with four candles developed from this original calendar. Instead of a wooden ring, fir twigs are now carefully woven into a wreath. In 1925, the first advent wreath was hung in a Catholic church (in Cologne). 

Overtime, this religious symbol of advent was adopted by ordinary households. The tradition spread from Germany throughout the entire Christian world. 

Traditional vs Modern

Nowadays, advent wreaths have changed greatly in style and are usually more of a decorative accessory in the household, rather than being a symbol of Christian faith. As such they must match the décor with the result that wreaths are now available in all colours and styles. An advent wreath is no longer even expected to be circular, but can also be oblong in design. 

Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull
Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull
Symbolik des Adventkranzes
©Elisabeth Frontull

Susanne Kröll, flourist and head of the Gärtnerei Kröll garden centre in Mayrhofen, showed us some of the models from the 2016 collection and revealed some of the trends for the coming advent. 

 

Classic or Decorative?

“Gold, silver, bronze, brown tones and rosé will be the most fashionable colours this advent. Materials such as wood, straw and felt will be used instead of fir twigs as the basis of some wreaths”, predicts Susanne Kröll. However, when I ask which type of advent wreath will be most frequently brought, she replies, “it will still be the classic advent wreath made from fir twigs with red candles.” It is clear then that tradition has not been completely replaced by modern decorative design. Both have their place and it is up to you to decide what style of advent wreath will help you countdown to Christmas!