The Advent Calendar
By Mike Whalen
In many homes, schools and churches it is a long-honored practice of lighting the four candles of the Advent wreath to celebrate the countdown to Christmas or the coming of Christ from which the Latin word Advent is derived. Along with that custom, the Advent calendar seems no less in importance and to open those twenty-four little doors days is a great joy to find what is behind it.
Of course, the variety of what is behind each door includes pictures to chocolates, cookies, even wine or little gifts for each day.
Now Advent calendars include all manner secular and not religious at all in theme, even Star Wars and the like.
We would like to consider their origin and go from there.
Several sources say Reichhold and Lang, a printing office Ing in Munich produced the first Advent calendar similar to what we use today in 1908. There were several versions much more embellished than todays. The original design seemed to have come from a designer who followed something his mother had done by hanging a poster on the wall with 24 different treats, one for each day. A newspaper inserted a calendar as a gift for its readers on the first Sunday of Advent and soon it was an eagerly anticipated tradition. (See below)
The early calendars tended to have a Biblical quote or poem surrounding the life of Jesus and a picture of the event.
The 25th door was usually the largest in size and more often than not showed a nativity stable scene.
More crude or primitive calendars were nothing more than lines on a wall or door frames, one for each day of advent with Sundays having colored or longer lines and perhaps even in color. With each passing day, the children could erase a mark and visually see the wait for Christmas getting shorter.
At one point, there were two actual pages making up this calendar. One page had small pictures and the second page small passages from scripture. Children could cut out one picture each day and fasten it to the little quote after reading it of course. It was a primitive type of sticker book.
Today’s Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes with perpetual types gaining in popularity that can be used each year with a litter drawer or niche into which a treat can be inserted.
The introduction of small toys or chocolates behind the door soon became very popular and flourished until World War II, when the shortage of cardboard and sugar stopped mass production of them.
It is estimated that over half the Advent Calendars made in Germany are exported to other countries now.
Dwight Eisenhower is often given the credit for bringing the tradition to the United States when he brought some Advent Calendars for his grandchildren.
The Advent calendar has not only grown in popularity but in size as well. Throughout Germany and Europe one can find whole buildings turned into giant advent calendars with one shade opened or candle lit in each window as Advent progresses. Some department stores have actually had moving parts in each square for which the young would gather each day to see what new character was revealed.
This tradition sadly has not caught on in the states as such religious decoration of any civic building is basically not permitted and many private, commercial storefronts would prefer to use the space to advertise toys and the like during the Advent season. (See example below)
Most advent calendars have 24 or 25 openings and often the last day, or the 25th day, is often larger than the other 24 and might reveal an actual stable scene.