Though the Adventskranz is a traditional German Christmas custom, its beginnings are rooted in pagan, pre-Christian times where it symbolized the eternal cycles of the seasons. The evergreen represented the land, the red ribbons life and the gold ones light. These wreaths would then be put on house doors as a protection from bad spirits.
It wasn’t until 1838 that these wreaths made a comeback. A protestant pastor from Hamburg, Johann Wichern, who ran an orphanage, decided to place a giant wooden ring in a room to use it as a type of countdown to Christmas for the children. Each day during the advent, the pastor would light a candle after their daily Bible reading. It wasn’t long before this tradition took hold in other orphanages. The wooden wreath became each time more festively decorated.
Yet it wasn’t till the 1860s in Berlin, where the wooden wreath was replaced by an evergreen wreath with only four candles to represent each Adventssonntag. The wreath was therefore smaller and quickly spread throughout German homes. By WWI, the advent wreath was present in almost all German protestant homes. Bit by bit the catholic Germans took up the traditions as well.
Readers Respond: Favorite German Christmas Traditions