Before we delve into the whole St. Nikolaus business, let's talk about the advent wreath.
As far as I know, this is a tradition celebrated mainly in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and it started yesterday, so let me introduce it to you.
Fir tree wreaths are a common sight around Christmas, but in Britain and America, they are usually hung at the door, embellished with bells or ribbons.
However, in Austria, we have four candles on them, each one for one of the advent Sundays leading up to Christmas. Traditional wreaths have mostly golden or red bows and candles on them, but you will find a wide variety of wreaths now, including stone or glass wreaths (which are terrible, but some people prefer the dead to the living, I guess).
In the first picture above you can behold my beautiful one for this year, hand-made by my mother and truly festive, emanating this wonderful Christmassy scent and I have also included some others, so you can see how diverse they are and might get inspired for your own one next year...
Historically, the advent wreath stems from the 19th century in which the Lutheran theologian Johann Hinrich Wichern introduced the wreath with initially 20 candles to shorten the time to Christmas for the children and have a sort of countdown to Christmas - which is now mainly covered by the advent calendars. Wichern looked after very poor children, who constantly asked when Christmas would be (hasn't changed that much, has it?) and they lit a candle every Sunday closer to Christmas.
The wreath with only four candles evolved over time (presumably because it was simply easier and cheaper) and soon the Catholic church joined in with the tradition, even though the first four-candle-wreath was only hung in 1925 in a Catholic church.
Austrians are so obsessed with their Christmas advent wreaths, they actually have a poem going with it, which goes as follows:
Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier,
Dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.
Which translates loosely to:
Advent, Advent, a light to present,
First one, then two, then three, then four,
Then Christchild is in front of your door.
Christchild, by the way, is our Santa Claus, but I will elaborate on this topic with a funny story later this advent and hope you will stay tuned.
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