History of Advent Calendars

Countdowns are a part of life, from counting down from birth to that first birthday, counting down the days until Spring Break in school, to countdowns on the launch pad for that lift off into space. And advent calendars are a fun way to count down to Christmas. They’ve become quite a tradition, in fact!

Disney’s Frozen Advent Calendar (ETS image)
Disney’s Frozen Advent Calendar (ETS image)

“Advent” comes from the Latin word “adventur” which means “arrival.” It started as a period that began on the Sunday nearest the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30) and goes through the following three Sundays. Now it often starts on December 1st and goes for the next 23 days to Christmas Day on December 25th.

Advent calendars haven’t been around too long — the first one is from about 1851. And styles aren’t restricted to calendars but include clocks and candles, and more recently wreaths. Early calendars could be something as simple as chalk strokes on the door, one per day until Christmas Eve. There was a Christmas Clock published in 1902 and a very similar one published in 1922, both in Germany. An Austrian museum dates advent calendars to 1903, and Neues Tagblatt Stuttgart, a German newspaper, had advent calendar inserts starting in 1904. Another claim is that the first one was from 1908 by Gerhard Lang in Germany. He had based it on a cardboard “calendar” his mother used for mounting candles for that countdown. He substituted little pictures for the candles. Later he put them behind little doors. These calendars were not produced during World War II due to rationing of cardboard, though. Calendars with chocolate behind the little doors date back to 1958. Candies or other tweets are common now. In the U.S., Dwight D. Eisenhower has been credited with the proliferation of the Advent calendar tradition by posing with his grandchildren while opening an advent calendar and having the photo run in several national newspapers.

Advent calendars come in various designs. Most still have those little doors to see prizes, candy, or other items. Some are printed on cardboard, or built from thin-wood boxes, or constructed from felt or other fabric. Some are composed of Lego’s®. One of the most expensive designs was available through Harrods in 2007, had a $50K price tag, and was a four-foot, Christmas-tree shaped structure made of burr elm and walnut wood with 24 compartments housing a piece of chocolate. A building-sized advent calendar is in Gloucester, England’s King’s Square and was a way of dressing up an ugly building as well as promoting shopping locally. Company logos of businesses offering special deals are revealed each day starting on December 1st.

Kinnerton has several designs (probably sold out this late in the year), such as one called Mr. Tumble’s Something Special and another featuring Disney’s Frozen. Each features delicious chocolate pieces, marking one day closer to Christmas day. And Mars candy company also produces their own version, as do other companies. I missed out this year, but next year…

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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