This Sunday we will celebrate the beginning of advent – the period in which we are joyfully expecting Christmas. In many places people will light the first out of four advent candles. But do you know where this tradition comes from?

It was Johan Hinrich Wichern, a protestant theologian and pedagogue and the founder of one of the first diaconal institutions in Germany, who started this tradition in 1839. A few years earlier, in 1833, Wichern had opened the Rauhe Haus, a house for orphans and other neglected boys from the poor neighbourhoods of the city of Hamburg. He welcomed them in a warm, family-like setting in a small farm close to the city.

To make it easier for the children to wait for Christmas, he created the “Adventskranz”. He placed candles on a wooden cartwheel; big white candles for the Sundays and small red candles for weekdays for each day between the first Sunday of advent and Christmas. In the following years he added green fir tree branches and the Adventskranz became popular within the protestant church and also in more and more family homes across Germany and beyond, although in most cases only the four big candles remained.

Every year, Eurodiaconia member Diakonie Deutschland offers an original Adventskranz to the President of the German Bundestag to thank them for their cooperation. Diakonie Austria is bringing its original Adventskranz not only to the federal President of Austria, but to many political representatives and partners across the country.

Until today the light of those candles are a strong symbol of hope and of defiance against all kind of darkness and cold. It is in this spirit that diaconal organisations operate every day and are committed to care for all those in need and in particular the most vulnerable and those who find themselves on the margins of our societies.

Picture by: Rauhe Haus