The Advent Wreath and Other Advent-y Things by Maria Von Trapp (Part One)


This article will inspire you to bring back these old customs that have been swept under the rug the past few decades! Do you want your children to love the Faith? Then inundate them with sweet traditions like the ones discussed below! Our Faith then becomes a Living Faith as we celebrate the liturgical year…..an ongoing journey that we can grow with as the years go by!

This is our Advent wreath that a dear friend made. Tea lights sit atop the Advent-painted wooden cylinders. It is lovely….and what is most amazing is that I dug it up the day before Advent started so we actually had it ready on time!


from Around the Year With the Trapp Family – by Maria von Trapp

Read Part Two Here.

In the week before the first Sunday in Advent, we began to inquire where we could obtain the various things necessary to make an Advent wreath.

“A what?” was the invariable answer, accompanied by a blank look.

And we learned that nobody seemed to know what an Advent wreath is. (This was fifteen years ago.) For us it was not a question of whether or not we would have an Advent wreath. The wreath was a must. Advent would be unthinkable without it. The question was only how to get it in a country where nobody seemed to know about it.

Back in Austria we used to go to a toy shop and buy a large hoop, about three feet in diameter. Then we would tie hay around it, three inches thick, as a foundation; and around this we would make a beautiful wreath of balsam twigs. The whole was about three feet in diameter and ten inches thick. As we tried the different toy shops in Philadelphia, the sales people only smiled indulgently and made us feel like Rip Van Winkle. “Around the turn of the century” they had sold the last hoop.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” Martina, who had made the Advent wreath during our last Advents back home, decided to buy strong wire at a hardware store and braid it into a round hoop. Then she tied old newspaper around it, instead of hay, and went out to look for balsam twigs. We lived in Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia. Martina looked at all the evergreens in our friends’ gardens, but there was no balsam fir. So she chose the next best and came home with a laundry basket full of twigs from a yew tree.

In the hardware store, where she had bought the wire, she also got four tall spikes, which she worked into her newspaper reel as candleholders, and in the five-and-ten next door she bought a few yards of strong red ribbon and four candles. The yew twigs made a somewhat feathery Advent wreath; but, said Martina, “It’s round and it’s made of evergreen, and that is all that is necessary.” And she was right.

An Advent wreath is round as a symbol of God’s mercy of which every season of Advent is a new reminder; and it has to be made of evergreens to symbolize God’s “everlastingness.”

This was the only Advent we celebrated at home because the manager who arranged the concerts for us had discovered that our tenth child would soon arrive and had canceled the concerts for the month of December. In the next few years a much smaller Advent wreath would be made by our children and fastened to the ceiling of the big blue bus in which we toured the country.

We always started out by looking for balsam fir, but not until years later, when we were to have our own farm in Vermont, would we have a balsam Advent wreath again. Meanwhile we had to take what we could find in the way of evergreens in Georgia it was holly; in Virginia, boxwood; in Florida, pine.

The least desirable of all was spruce, which we used the year we traveled through Wisconsin, because spruce loses its needles quickest. But as long as it was an evergreen….

In order to get ready for the celebration of the beginning of Advent, one more thing has to be added a tall, thick candle, the Advent candle, as a symbol of Him Whom we call “the Light of the World.” During these weeks of Advent it will be the only light for the family evening prayer. Its feeble light is the symbol and reminder of mankind’s state of spiritual darkness during Advent.

On the first of January a new calendar year begins. On the first Sunday of Advent the new year of the Church begins. Therefore, the Saturday preceding the first Advent Sunday has something of the character of a New Year’s Eve.

One of the old customs is to choose a patron saint for the new year of the Church. The family meets on Saturday evening, and with the help of the missal and a book called “The Martyrology,” which lists thousands of saints as they are celebrated throughout the year, they choose as many new saints as there are members of the household.

We always choose them according to a special theme. One year, for instance, we had all the different Church Fathers; another year we chose only martyrs; then again, only saints of the new world….During the war we chose one saint of every country at war.

The newly chosen names are handed over to the calligrapher of the family (first it was Johanna; after she married, Rosemary took over). She writes the names of the saints in gothic lettering on little cards. Then she writes the name of every member of the household on an individual card and hands the two sets over to the mother. Now everything is ready.

In the afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent, around vesper time, the whole family–and this always means “family” in the larger sense of the word, including all the members of the household–meets in the living room.

The Advent wreath hangs suspended from the ceiling on four red ribbons; the Advent candle stands in the middle of the table or on a little stand on the side. Solemnly the father lights one candle on the Advent wreath, and, for the first time, the big Advent candle. Then he reads the Gospel of the first Sunday of Advent. After this the special song of Advent is intoned for the first time, the ancient “Ye heavens, dew drop from above, and rain ye clouds the Just One….”

Consciously we should work toward restoring the true character of waiting and longing to these precious weeks before Christmas. Just before Midnight Mass, on December 24th, is the moment to sing for the first time “Silent Night, Holy Night,” for this is the song for this very night. It may be repeated afterwards as many times as we please, but it should not be sung before that holy night.

Since we have found that Advent hymns have been largely forgotten, we want to include here the ones we most often sing; and we also want to explain how we collected our songs. First, there were a certain number, the traditional ones, which were still sung in homes and in church during the weeks of Advent. Then we looked for collections in libraries; we inquired among friends and acquaintances; we wrote to people we had met on our travels in foreign countries. Each song that has come to us in this way is particularly dear to us–a personal friend rather than a chance acquaintance.


Text, Isaias 45,8; melody, first (Dorian) mode. This is the medieval

Advent call–sing three times, each time a tone higher.

Ye Heavens, dew drop from above and rain ye clouds the just one.



The text of this hymn is based on the seven Great Antiphons (O-Antiphons)

which are said before and after the Magnificat at Vespers from December

17 to 23. The metrical Latin form dates from the early 18th century.

English translation J. M. Neale (1818-1866), and “The Hymnal of the

Protestant Episcopal Church in U.S.A.” (stanzas 2 and 4), by permission

of “The Church Pension Fund.” Melody, first (Dorian) mode.

  1. O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Shall come to thee, O Israel!

  1. O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,

Who ordrest all things mightily;

To us the path of knowledge show,

And teach us in her ways to go.–Refrain

  1. O come, Thou Key of David, come,

And open wide our heav’nly home;

Make safe the way that leads to thee,

And close the path to misery.–Refrain

  1. O come, Desire of Nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid thou our sad divisions cease,

And be thyself our King of Peace.–Refrain



Text, Michael Denis, 1774; melody, 18th century Austrian, probably

Michael Haydn, 1737-1806.

  1. Drop your dew, ye clouds of heaven,

Rain the Just One now to save!

With that cry the night was riven

From the world, a yawning grave.

On the earth by God forsaken

Sin and death their toll had taken.

Tightly shut was heaven’s gate,

For salvation all must wait.

  1. To redeem our sad condition

Was the Father’s loving Will,

And the Son took the glad mission

His decision to fulfill.

Gabriel to earth descended,

Brought the answer long attended

“See the Handmaid of the Lord,

Do according to thy word.”

  1. Let us walk with right intention,

Not in drunkenness and greed,

Quarrels, envies and contention

Banished far from us indeed.

Fully now to imitate Him

As with longing we await Him

Is the duty of these days,

As the great Apostle says.



Text and melody, 17th century German. This forceful melody in the first

(Dorian) mode should be sung in unison.

  1. O Savior, heaven’s portals rend,

Come down, from heav’n, to earth descend!

Open celestial gate and door;

Never to lock nor fasten more.

  1. O brilliant Sun, O lovely Star,

We dare behold Thee from afar.

O Sun arise, without Thy light

We languish all in darkest night.

  1. Drop dew, ye heavens from above,

Come in the dew, O God of love!

Ye clouds now break, rain down the King,

His peace to Jacob’s house to bring.



German folksong known since the 16th century; probably much older.

Translation, Henry S. Drinker.

  1. Maria walks amid the thorn,

Kyrie eleison,

Which seven years no leaf has borne,

She walks amid the wood of thorn,

Jesus and Maria.

  1. What ‘neath her heart does Mary bear?

Kyrie eleison.

A little child does Mary bear,

Beneath her heart He nestles there.

Jesus and Maria.

  1. And as the two are passing near,

Kyrie eleison,

Lo! roses on the thorns appear,

Lo! roses on the thorns appear.

Jesus and Maria.



Text by Hermann the Cripple, 1013-1054, monk at Reichenau in the Lake of

Constance. Melody in the fifth (Lydian) mode. This is the liturgical

Antiphon in honor of the Blessed Virgin for the season of Advent and


Blessed Mother of the Savior,

thou art the gate leading us to heaven,

and Star of the Sea, aid thy falling people,

help all those who seek to rise again.

Thou who art the Mother, all nature wondering,

to thy Lord, thy own Creator: Virgin before, Virgin forever,

from Gabriel’s mouth thou didst hear that blessed Ave,

on us poor sinners take pity.




“Your joy in your children should outweigh by far any disadvantages they may cause. In them you will find your own happiness.” – Rev. George A. Kelly, The Catholic Family Handbook



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