The Advent wreath wasn’t invented by the Victorians, but its modernization came about during the period and its place among Christian traditions was solidified during the era. We have Johann Hinrich Wichern to thank for the Advent wreath we recognize today.  So, who was this man?

Johann Hinrich Wichern was born on April 21, 1808, in Hamburg, Germany. He was a theologian who devoted himself to missionary work among the poor. He traveled throughout Germany, preaching and establishing schools, homes, and rescue stations.

He dedicated part of his life to helping children affected by poverty. At the age of 25, he founded Rauhen Haus, or Rough House, in Hamburg. The mission was to rescue neglected and difficult children. What he built wasn’t a traditional reformatory. It was neither a workhouse nor an orphanage. Rather, it was a place in which the children grew up a family-like environment (“free children in a free family”).

Wichern trained men, mostly craftsmen, to instruct the children within the living environment. It used the principle of holistic life education. It is considered to a model of modern childcare.

What is one to do with so many children and Christmas approaching? With questions like “is it Christmas yet” bouncing off the walls, Wichern had to think about a way to help Children wait and to focus on the reason for the season.

So, in 1839, he took a large cartwheel and turned it into an Advent wreath on steroids. Not only were there four large thick white candles representing the four Sundays of Advent, there were small red candles for the days in between, all leading up to Christmas Eve.

The wreath was hung in the prayer hall.  Each day a new candle was lit. The children then knew exactly how many days were left until Christmas. The youngest ones also learned how to count in a simple way.

Fir greenery started adorning Advent wreaths around 1860. By the beginning of the 20th century, the wreaths were showing up in Protestant churches and private households. Today, the Christ candle is in the middle, waiting to be lit on Christmas or Christmas Day. However, if you visit Rauhen Haus during Advent, you will see the original Advent wreath that Johann Hinrich Wichern invented in 1839.

– Donna Klein


Who invented the Advent wreath? by Cornelius Kob

Johann Hinrich Wichern – The human savior by Nils Zurawski

We hope you enjoyed this article. Please visit our website for Victorian fashions like those worn during the lifetime of Johann Hinrich Wichern.