Four candles for Advent

December 1, 2010, 6 Comments


It’s that time of year again, time to light a candle every week until Christmas. The Swiss love their Advent crowns, which are much more rustic than the tinsel-and-bauble affairs you get in Britain, assuming you can even find one. Here the crowns are rings of winter greenery (think fir, holly, and ivy), decorated with apple rings, rosehips and pine cones. And of course, four candles, which always makes me smile as I remember the classic Two Ronnies comedy sketch from the BBC. Priceless innocent entertainment.

The snazzier crowns have four different-sized candles so that you light the largest first as it has to burn the longest; by the time you get to the fourth Sunday in advent, all four candles (or should that be fork handles?) are the same size. So clever. Then there are the nouveau versions, which are aren’t round at all but look like the love-child of an Advent crown and yule log: all the candles in a straight line. Very regimented and perfect as a table centrepiece.

Advent in Switzerland isn’t just about crowns & candles, but three other Cs as well. Christmas markets – there’s no better way to prepare for the big day than mooching round the stalls, with snow falling, twinkly lights and a cup of steaming glühwein in hand. It’s like being inside a Christmas card. The Swiss markets aren’t on the scale of the German ones (Stuttgart has to be seen to be believed) but being smaller makes them cuter. I love the ones in front of Bern’s Münster and on Basel’s Barfüsserplatz. Or when it’s really too cold, the one inside Zurich’s main station, apparently the largest indoor Christmas market in Europe, complete with a giant tree decorated with Swarovski cristals. I think I’ll stick to candles and balls on ours at home.

Cookies are the next big C, or actually little C as these are cookies of the miniature variety. Known locally as Guetzli, they are often star- or moon-shaped and are a must at every dinner party in December. I have friends who take time off work purely to spend days baking these sweet almost-nothings. I just buy mine, far easier. The most popular is the cinammon star, with its festive white icing, but my personal favourite is the brünsli, a chocolate-almond delight.

Calendars really are a big deal here at Advent. All across Switzerland the first doors and drawers would have been eagerly opened today. I love the giant glittery ones that tower over most children and are works of art in themselves; I’m still not quite sure about the very traditional ones carved from wood, with 24 little drawers or boxes to open. No pretty pictures but at least you get a present a day. And this being Switzerland, there are plenty of the daily-dose-of-chocolate calendars on offer, though the temptation just to open all at once is almost too much.

And thanks to the lovely people at the Orell Füssli English Bookshop in Zurich, Swiss Watching has its very own online Advent calendar, with something new to read every day. A little daily treat for you to enjoy until Christmas.

6 Comments on "Four candles for Advent"

  1. Sara Ellul Wednesday December 1st, 2010 at 10:17 PM · Reply

    Love the advent calendar! Much better than the one I’ve got at home which is an old fashioned picture one with no chocolates! What a treat tobe able to open yours every day! Hurrah for the Orell Füssli English Bookshop!

  2. Anne Wednesday December 1st, 2010 at 10:22 PM · Reply

    I was already homesick earlier today when a friend posted pictures about the Christmas market in Vienna, but this just put me over the top. Incidently, I still bake traditional Swiss Christmas cookies here in the US, my friends love them. My first batch is cinnamon stars, I ship some to my mom back in Switzerland, since I’m the only one in our family that makes them. My advent crown is from IKEA, a star shaped candle holder that I decorate myself.

  3. papalbina Thursday December 2nd, 2010 at 11:36 AM · Reply

    i always thought the most popular guetzlis are the mailänderlis, perhaps because they are my favourite ones ^___^ and now that you say it: yesterday i completely forgot to open the door of my advent calendar 😛

  4. Rahel Thursday December 2nd, 2010 at 02:49 PM · Reply

    Oh- Christmasmarkets… I think I am getting homesick…
    I love the one on Petersplatz in Basel!
    Too bad there’s no Christmas-feeling here at all… so I will bake some “Zimtstaerne” , “Brunsli” , “Spitzbuebe” and “Mailaenderli” and decorate at least our home a bit to get a tiny bit into Christmas-mood.

  5. rockey Tuesday December 18th, 2012 at 02:29 AM · Reply

    i miss swiss country soooooooooooo much!!!!

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