Der Adventskranz

Advenz Kranz german school campus FI

The first Advent wreath: A cartwheel with many lights

The origins of the Advent wreath tradition date back to the 19th century. The Christmas festival played a significant role in the Protestant-influenced Rauhes Haus in Hamburg, which Johann Hinrich Wichern established in 1833 for the care of children. During the Advent season, the children at Wichern’s institution repeatedly asked when Christmas would finally arrive. To preemptively address this question and make the waiting easier for the children, he crafted a sort of Christmas calendar in 1839. He took a cartwheel and attached as many candles as there were days from the first Advent to Christmas Eve—unlike today’s Advent calendars, which count the days from December 1st to Christmas, always displaying 24 days. The number of days from the first Advent to Christmas varies each year, ranging from 22 (when Christmas Eve falls on the fourth Advent Sunday) to a maximum of 28 (when Christmas Eve is on the Saturday after the fourth Advent). In 1839, it was 23.

Wichern hung the wreath in the prayer room of the orphanage, featuring 19 small red candles and four large white candles. Each day, a new candle was lit—one small candle for weekdays and one large candle for Advent Sundays. This way, the children always knew how many days were left until Christmas. The wreath also had a nice side effect: the children learned to count in a simple way.

It wasn’t until around 1860 that the wreath was decorated with pine greenery. It became widely adopted in Protestant churches and private households until the early 20th century. In 1925, a wreath was reportedly hung in a Catholic church in Cologne for the first time. By the post-World War II period, it had become a tradition found worldwide in various forms. Today, there are wreaths made of terrycloth, plastic, porcelain, foldable wreaths for travel, and much more. They all share one common feature: unlike the Wichern wreath, they now have only four candles—for Advent Sundays.

However, at Rauhes Haus in Hamburg, the Wichern tradition is still upheld. The original Advent wreath that Johann Hinrich Wichern created in 1839 is still in use here during the Advent season.