Just picture this: It's really dark and cold outside. The sun popped up for a few hours casting long shadows before it was gone again. In most of the windows there are electrified stars or rows of electric candles. It's December in Scandinavia and people stay in making preparations for the holidays surrounded by lots of lighting and burning candles.
For the first four Sundays leading up to Christmas eve Scandinavians light their Advent candles. It is always 4 candles in a candle holder, or arranged on a tray or a wood log, decorated with anything from pine cones and branches to bows, berries, and shiny Christmas balls.
On the first Sunday families get together in the afternoon to light the first candle and watch it carefully so they don't burn more than one quarter. The second Sunday two candles are lit, again only burning a quarter down and so on till the last (and fourth) Sunday of Advent. Some have traditions to read specific poetry, others sing, but overall it is simply a nice way to get together and create "Hygge" and get in the holiday spirit. Sundays in Scandinavia are often filled with holiday preparations and between the lit Advent "stake" and the smell of baked holiday cookies, gløgg (spiced mulling wine) it is impossible not to get a little excited about the upcoming big event - Christmas eve.
Growing up there this was always the goal but not what happened of course. On the first Sunday of Advent we would frequently forget to blow out the candle in time (it burned all the way down) so my job was often to burn down the replacement candle during the week till it burned down one quarter so it would look right again on the second Sunday. On the second Sunday we would all forget again, and I would have to prepare two replacement candles. Every once in a while the decor would burn as well so after throwing a glass of water on the table containing the Advent "stake" and a nice embroidered holiday table cloth from Aunt Martha it would all have to be replaced. After the initial upset the candleholder would be re-decorated and another tablecloth from Auntie Aud would appear.
While the Advent was observed and the candle(s) burning we had Santa's workshop and made Christmas tree ornaments from glossy colored paper, usually woven heart shaped baskets and long chains of paper bands. We would make marzipan from scratch and it took almost all day - at which time we would all nibble along the way so we had to make a whole new batch the following Sunday - and then maybe be able to save a few pieces for the designated marzipan tin for all the holiday parties. Most of the time that tin was empty by the time Christmas eve rolled around and we would buy the shaped and painted marzipan pieces at the local bakery. But we didn't fear we wouldn't get enough - we always received a "Marsipan Gris" under the tree - a huge chunk of marzipan shaped and painted like a pig in a wooden crate resting on paper "hay". Of course we would proceed to eat the entire thing late Christmas eve for an extra special stomach ache the next morning.
Advent is a simple and nice way to create a little extra atmosphere before the holidays - so create your own "stake" containing four candles, add a little holiday detail to it, and don't be afraid to put some extra lights in all your windows. It's charming, warm, and puts everyone in a good mood.
At Norden Living we have 4-candle holders of course, but we also created our own Advent "stake" - and while lighting it we'll be doing special Advent events on Sundays the whole month of December - Happy Holidays!