Danish Advent Wreath


Informant JA was a current undergraduate student at the University of Southern California at the time of this collection. Though JA was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, their mom’s maternal side of the family originates from Denmark. Christmas is an important holiday to JA’s family; it is a time of year for their extended family to gather and celebrate a year that is usually spent apart in respective nuclear families. At the time that Christmas decorations begin to go up outdoors, JA’s family decorates indoors and, besides a Christmas tree, has one main decoration: a Danish advent wreath.


JA described a shared family advent wreath that has four candles on it, and one candle is lit every Sunday before Christmas, starting four weeks before Christmas Day. Each of the four candles represents a value that his family cherishes, like love. A value is commemorated and focused on each of the four Sundays before Christmas Day.

JA mentioned that most advent wreaths are simple with green fir tree leaves and the occasional small, red ornaments. However, JA’s family gets creative with their annual wreath and incorporates purple into the red and green color scheme. Each year, their family takes a trip to their local arts and crafts store for unique decorative accents to put on the wreath, and even though this deviates from traditional wreaths, JA stated that this is what makes their tradition special to them compared to other Danish families. Though Christmas is partly celebrated weeks in advance of actual Christmas Day, JA added that their family’s true celebration is traditionally on Christmas Eve evening with his mom’s side of the family.


Unlink other genres of folklore, this holiday ritual is more explicit in the values it expresses. Since candles are lit to “represent” shared family values, one would not have to speculate what is deemed important for JA’s family. However, further analysis of this holiday ritual could reveal underlying values that go unspoken. By participating in this annual holiday ritual, JA and their family are engaging with a facet of their family heritage. Heritage does not require active participation and is present even when it goes unacknowledged. For JA’s family, this particular tradition showcases the unspoken value of engaging with family heritage while simultaneously providing a means for them to do so.