Advent Wreaths, Adventskranz, and Other German Christmas Traditions

Garden Collage Marketing Director Lena Braun explains some of her favorite (botanical) Christmas traditions from her native Germany

Traditions, traditions. Especially with our fast-paced lifestyles we sometimes do not realize how quickly each month passes. Oh, and there you go– the year is over! Oftentimes I find myself pondering, especially on flights back home when I visit my family for the holiday, how yet again I did not bother to decorate my place in New York.

Knowing I would come home to a fully decorated house lit with candles, mistletoe, fir twigs, and angles in every corner perhaps initiated that self-proclaimed minimalism. I would enter the house and the smell of dried oranges, cinnamon, cloves, anise, apples, and Stollen would welcome me with the most loving symphony of senses.

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This year I decided to bring back some European traditions to have more than just a sweet memory of home.

Since it is still too soon for Plätzchen (biscuits and cookies) and Stollen (fruit bread) I decided to prepare a traditional Adventskranz (Advent wreath).

Its great to have a wreath at the door and then move it into the house so that it can function for the four traditional Sunday Advent candle lighting (a tradition in Germany).

I admire simple and natural-looking holiday décor the most, therefore I went to Union Square Farmers market and picked up a simple green fir wreath with nothing on it. Soon I spotted some glaring red winterberry (Ilex verticillata), a native plant to eastern North America. Since I love to combine different cultural experiences, this was going to be the color accent on my European wreath. On my way home I also picked up some fresh English lavender (which still attracts bees at the market, even in November) from Lavender by the Bay.

PB192568-EditAt home I created small, mini-dry lavender bouquets and left them at my neighbor’s door. I love little gestures like this, and of course I do enjoy that they will ponder about their secret admirer.

The wreath looked beautiful as it is, but the winterberry definitely added some character and a unique je ne sais quoi.

My only advice for this really simple holiday ensemble is to insert the winterberry sticks along the direction of the fir twigs to maintain the harmonious look of the original wreath. Also a sharp clipper will help with the rather thick winterberry sticks. Try to use the entire stick and not only the berries; the additional wood element will make the wreath even more special.

 Since this wreath will hang several weeks until it can be used for the candle tradition, I didn’t add the candles yet. I do suggest buying fire-resistant candle holders that can be inserted in the arrangement later.

I do appreciate the traditions of adding light and greenery during the winter season. Here in New York I enjoy Shabbat dinners with my Israeli and American friends-turned-family and I do love that my mother lights our menorah every year. My Indian friend has introduced me to Diwali and I can confidently say that the power of light and hospitality connects souls all over the world. Hopefully my new winterberry wreath will add some welcoming flair for my guests.

If you want to volunteer during the holiday season and also bring some light, flowers or simply joy to people’s lives have look at VolunteerMatch.org. You can light Chanukah candles with elderly, help beautify the Hudson River Park or bring flowers and smiles to hospital patients.

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