Sunday, November 27, 2005

hope, love, joy and peace

Today is the first day of Advent, the countdown to Christmas. Advent starts between November 27th and December 3rd each year and ends on December 24th. Most Germans, religious or not, will have an Advent wreath in their homes at this time of year. Pre-Christian Germanic peoples were thought to have gathered wreaths of evergreen and lit fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light. The custom was kept alive by Christians, and by the 16th century the Advent wreath had been adopted by both Catholics and Protestants, its use gradually spreading from Germany to other parts of the Christian world.

Traditionally the wreath is decorated with three violet candles and one rose-coloured one, these colours having religious significance. There seem to be many interpretations of the symbolism of the Advent wreath flying around, but the ones I like best are that the wreath, green and circular, represents eternal life, and that the candles are symbols of hope, love, joy and peace.

Nowadays Advent candles can be any colour under the sun and people often design their wreaths to match their home decor. That's what I did, and I decided to go natural this year using cinnamon sticks, star anise and dried orange slices as decorations. Smells great and matches our living room!

I was very naughty and lit all four candles to show you what it looks like. You're really only supposed to light the first candle today, the first and second candles next Sunday, three candles on the third Sunday and so on until all four are lit on the fourth Advent Sunday.

This is a traditional German children's Advent rhyme. By counting the lit candles on the wreath, the children can tell how long it will be until they get their presents, traditionally brought by the Christ Child in Germany, although in most regions the job has since been taken over by the Weihnachstmann (Santa Claus).

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier,
dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür

(Advent, Advent, a little light is burning
First one, then two, then three, then four
Then the Christ Child stands outside the door.)

Seeing that the first Advent fell in November this year, crafty retailers used a loophole in the Ladenschlußgesetz (roughly the 'shop opening hours act') and opened stores today from 1-6 p.m. for Sunday shopping. For the most part, Sunday shopping is strictly verboten in Germany, retailers being allowed to choose only four Sundays a year to allow the public to shop, but never, ever a Sunday in December. But, ho ho ho, it's still November, right? In Hannover this was the first Sunday opening during Advent for the past 50 years and around 250,000 people were expected to storm into the city to shop, much to the chagrin of certain members of the Protestant church who don't seem to understand that it's all about choice.

OK, I'll admit it - we went downtown too, but really only to go to the Weihnachtsmarkt - the Christmas market (OK, and to buy winter jackets for the boys). It was lovely, as usual, with many stands featuring pretty decorations and hand-made items along with tons of delicious food. I avoided the Glühwein this time.

One thing I particularily like is the small Finnish Christmas market that takes place alongside the German market. We enjoyed an unusual reindeer sausage (yes, I ate a reindeer!) and the salmon being cooked on cedar planks over an open fire looked wonderful. Our town also has an Adventsmarkt every year, but by the time we got back from town, we were too tired to go! Not much of a loss though, since it's been exactly the same for the past 10 years. I doubt we missed much.

Tomorrow I plan to get the door wreath up and continue sorting out the other decorations. I may even attempt to clean the house as well if the mood strikes me!


At November 28, 2005 7:24 a.m., Blogger Karen said...

I've taken to doing a "Gesteck" with just one candle 'cause it drives me crazy when the four candles have different heights because of the "lighting order".
A bit neurotic, I guess ;-)

Nice Adventskranz - well done!

At November 28, 2005 9:16 a.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

If the nice Adventskranze are not that expensive (bloody EUR 20!), I'd have gotten one yesterday when I went to the Weihnachtsmarkt. So, we ended up not having a Weihnachtskranz yesterday...maybe I'll get one still this week.

At November 28, 2005 9:35 a.m., Blogger christina said...

Karen - sometimes we do that too. It is pretty annoying with the candles, isn't it? Last year we just had a huge green square candle with four wicks in it and used that. Kind of a post-modern sort of thing. This year I was in the mood for something more traditional.

Elemm - you need to go saw off a few tree brances and make your own!

At November 28, 2005 1:54 p.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Christina, if it were that easy here in downtown Munich. *sigh*

BTW, where did you manage to get vanilla essence here? I want real vanilla essence and not those Dr. Oetke vanilla aroma. Or can I substitute it with a Vanilleschote?

At November 28, 2005 2:01 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Elemm - the only vanilla extract I've seen here is in really tiny bottles, usually in the international section of larger supermarkets and very expensive. I always bring a big bottle back with me from Vancouver and it lasts a couple of years. You can use a vanilla bean (Vanilleschote) too by cutting it open and scraping out the insides and then putting the little brown bits along with the whole bean into a jar of sugar. If you let it sit for a few days, the sugar takes on the aroma and you can use a couple of tablespoons in your recipe. I think some of the Dr. Oetker stuff is actually OK - those little brown packets of "Bourbon Vanille" are just vanilla bean and sugar without a lot of fake aroma.

At November 28, 2005 6:43 p.m., Anonymous mar said...

Your Adventskranz is beautiful, just what I was expecting from you! :D I have a minimalist one with 4 Teelichte, 2 weisse, 2 rote... Because I am leaving on thursday and won't be back until the 18th.

At November 28, 2005 8:02 p.m., Blogger Sparky said...

"...und wenn das fünfte Lichtlein brennt,
dann hast Du Weihnachten verpennt!" an often-used comedic variation on the rhyme you mentioned. Anyway, Jen and I just admired your "Adventskranz" (far more creative than any craftsmanship the two of us come up with). If your living room matches that thing, we have to sse it.

J and S

At November 28, 2005 8:32 p.m., Blogger In Actual Fact said...

Christina, Elemm You could always go crazy with the vanillazucker but I too bring the flavouring from the UK (Ingredients: Water, Isopropanol, Propylene glycol, Flavourings, Colour E150d). Hmmm. But it is suitable for vegetarians and gluten free!

At November 28, 2005 9:08 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Thanks Mar and Sparky! I actually got it together this year and did something on time! :-)

Actual - that must be the artificial vanilla extract. The stuff I have is made of water, alchohol and vanilla bean extracts. I figure we get enough additives in the rest of the stuff we're eating here - you know, rotten chicken and fruit full of pesticides.

At November 28, 2005 9:24 p.m., Blogger J said...

How on earth did you learn to be so creative, and such a good cook/baker? I suppose you just have a talent for it.

At November 28, 2005 10:46 p.m., Blogger Haddock said...

I tried reindeer meat in Norway. I thought it was quite nice - I also tried whale meat - not because I agree with whaling because I don't (I'm a member ot the Marine Conservation society). I tried it because it was there - its nothing special. I think I digress sometimes :)
Great background info on the Advents candles.

At November 28, 2005 10:56 p.m., Blogger christina said...

J - My mum is an excellent, creative cook (although she couldn't cook at all when she first got married) so she taught me a lot starting when I was very young, and I was always into all kinds of arts and crafts. I guess some of it comes naturally, but I think everyone can learn - just takes practice.

At November 28, 2005 11:32 p.m., Blogger christina said...

haddock - whale meat sounds very interesting. I don't agree with whaling either, but as you say, if something is presented to you, why not try it once?

At November 29, 2005 2:52 a.m., Blogger Crystal said...

Reindeer meat--that's a new one! The Sunday shopping ban is quite unfortunate, Americans couldn't take that.

At December 01, 2005 10:31 p.m., Blogger In Actual Fact said...

Christina: That's what I initially thought too and demanded real, natural vanilla essence - until I discovered that the "flavouring" was "real vanilla" - Similarly E150d as a colour is "real caramel" and E300 is vitamin C.
Sometimes the labelling sounds much worse than it actually is...
Although the EU directive of what you're allowed to call a chicken nugget is scary.

At December 08, 2009 11:25 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very enlightening post!


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