A is for Advent – the history interpreter’s historical advent calendar

The first in my alphabetical historical trivia advent calendar. Yes I know there are 24 days and 26 letters of the alphabet. Actually I am in trouble as I have several letters with no entries thus far.


The modern period of Advent was established by The Council of Tours in 567 as a period of fasting. They also declared the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany to be a sacred, festive season. Previously there had been a 6 week fast from St. Martin’s day (11th November Martinmas).

Advent Calendar

A Lutheran idea originating in Germany in the early C19th to mark the count down to Christmas. Originally this might have been as simple as drawing a chalk line on the door each day from 1st December. Others hung religious pictures on the wall or lit candles each day, sometimes the 24 candles would be arranged in a frame known as an advent clock. This developed into the modern wreath. The first reference to a (handmade) calendar is in 1851 and printed calendars appeared in the first decade of the C20th.

Advent Wreath

In ancient Rome people used decorative wreaths as a sign of victory. Some believe that this is where the hanging of wreaths on doors came from. The roots of the Advent wreath go back to the pagan practices of the Germanic peoples who, in the dark days of winter, decorated their houses with evergreens and lit candles as symbols of hope of spring to come. These traditions were adopted by the Christian church and the symbolism was transferred to represent Christ the everlasting light. Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens with a fifth candle in the middle. Three candles are violet and the fourth is rose but four white candles or four violet candles can also be used. Each week in church, the candles are lit, one candle the first week and then another each succeeding week until the Sunday before Christmas. The last candle is the middle candle. The lighting of this candle takes place on Christmas Eve. It represents Jesus Christ being born. The first reference to a public hanging of an Advent wreath is in Hamburg in 1839.


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