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Hanukkah and Advent in Vienna

Light in the dark season

November 28, 2021 was the first Sunday of Advent and this year the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, also began on the same day. Hanukkah lasts 8 days and ends on December 6. The word means dedication and refers to the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 B.C. The temple, desecrated by an altar to Zeus, could be cleansed and used again. For this, the seven-branched temple candelabrum, the menorah, had to burn for eight days. But one had only a small amount of oil for one day. Making new kosher oil took 8 days. Then the miracle happened that the available oil was enough for eight days.

At present, every evening another candle is lit on the large Hanukkah on Kärntnerstraße in Vienna. The ninth candle, Shames, is the servant candle that lights the others. Oil still plays a major role in food traditions today. A lot of food is eaten baked in oil. Chanukah Sameach!

On Sunday, the second candle is lit on the Advent wreaths. Symbolically, with each Sunday until Christmas, the light grows stronger, warming hearts and preparing them for the great feast. Originally, there were even 24 candles on a large wheel to help children shorten the time until Christmas. The Protestant theologian and educator Johann Wichern is considered the first to set up this type of wreath for the street children he cared for in Hamburg in 1839. He used four white candles and twenty red candles. The children also learned to count with this candle wreath.

For many years, a large Advent wreath also decorated the Wiener Graben. Supposedly it was Europe’s largest Advent wreath. The wreath of green brushwood also reminds us that after winter, spring and greenery will return. All evergreen leaves and needles are a symbol of hope.

A look back into history teaches us that the Advent season was not always a contemplative time for all Viennese. A very popular pastime was to go out to Frau Godl (Barbara Müller) in the suburbs for the Viennese Nativity play. Everything was offered in the puppet theatre to please old and young. That it should be devout at the nativity play itself, was also the opinion of a contemporary. He complains in a poem that some only crowd the back rows to meet the beloved at the secret Stell-Dich-Ein. So some were caught cuddling instead of focusing on the crib.

Have a wonderful Advent season!