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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.


My friend was born in Sweden to a Swedish father and American mother, but moved to the United States as a child, so she sat down with me and told me about the different holidays that are celebrated in Sweden. Some were holidays she had celebrated frequently, while others we less important to her, but she still knew about from her family. Since midsummer includes children in the celebration, she had fond memories of past holidays in Sweden.

“Then we have midsommar, which is midsummers, it’s like the middle and it’s usually the summer solstice and that’s where it’s like the typical maypole, it’s almost like a cross with two rings and kids will have strings and dance around the maypole. And that’s also fertility”

Q: Have you celebrated this?

“I’ve done it ever since I was little. Usually it’s like the entire community gets together and there’s a central maypole for that community. So it’s not like it’s a fair, but everybody comes out and they picnic. And what the girls are supposed to do, is you’re supposed to collect seven different types of wildflowers and you make wreaths, like crowns, that you wear and you wear it all day and the girls usually wear white dresses and you’re supposed to jump over five different fences, and what you usually do is eat strawberries, strawberries and cream are like, in season, so you usually have strawberry cake and stuff like that. And you’re outside and you play games and it’s really, really fun. There’s specific songs and dances that you do while you dance around the Maypole. One of them is små grodorna, which means little frogs, and you jump over people…it’s for kids but it’s really, really cute. But when you get older, it’s like you drink and, but everybody still dresses up and it’s really pretty. But what girls are supposed to do is you put the wreath under your pillow and then you dream about the man you’re going to marry. I really remember actually making the crowns, because my mom was really good at doing it, because you have to like, braid, because they’re like wildflowers, you don’t buy something, you braid the flowers to create these really pretty things. It’s super fun and it lasts throughout the day”