Advent calendars are an essential part of Christmas. Whether they contain chocolate or science experiments, advent calendars are an unmissable part of holiday cheer. They emphasize the anticipation of Christmas approaching and can bring families together in a daily ritual.
The advent calendar has an exciting history that includes counting the days to Christmas in nineteenth-century Germany, a Nazi ban, and, most recently, a million-dollar Porche iteration.
What is advent?
The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus, which means coming or arrival. Traditionally, advent is the preparation for the nativity of Christ. It is observed during the four Sundays before Christmas. In some Christian traditions, practitioners light one candle for each Sunday of advent. The first candle signifies hope, the second peace, the third love, and the fourth joy.
Today, advent is not only a strictly Christian practice. Advent calendars are used by many non-religious people. To such people, it is a way of adding joy and ritual to the dark winter months.
Where did advent calendars originate?
Advent calendars first appeared in Germany. In their earliest form, advent calendars were lines drawn with chalk on doors to mark the days of advent. We first see this in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
These early renditions are more or less in keeping with the original meaning of advent. At the beginning of Christianity, advent was a time for prayer, penance, and fasting before the start of the new year. Today’s advent, which often involves eating chocolate in large quantities, is quite the opposite. Early German advent calendar traditions were closer to the original significance of advent in their modesty.
The exact origin of the advent calendar as we know it today is contested, but most scholars agree that Gerhard Lang invented them in 1908. Lang’s mother had given him a proto-advent calendar in his childhood, which consisted of 24 sweets or cookies on a piece of cardboard.
As an adult man, Lang remembered this and commercialized the idea. His advent calendar had pictures hidden behind doors rather than something edible. The chocolate calendars we know today were still decades away.
Advent calendars in the middle of the 20th century
Lang’s business ended in the 1930s, and the Nazis banned advent calendars during the Second World War. The only advent calendars produced during the Nazi regime had swastikas and tanks hidden behind the familiar doors rather than bible verses and images.
This might have been the end of the history of advent calendars if it had not been for Richard Sellmer, who began printing them shortly after the war despite massive paper shortages. Sellmer’s company is still in existence, selling advent calendars to 25 countries. He was the first to export the tradition of advent calendars to countries outside Germany, and since then, they have taken off. Thanks to Sellmer, advent calendars are now being sold worldwide.
In modern times
Chocolate advent calendars first appeared in the 1950s, but they did not take off and become the norm until the 70s. Today, there are many alternatives to chocolate available. You can get advent calendars containing everything from lip balms to science experiments.
The most outrageous advent calendar ever made is probably the million-dollar calendar launched by Porsche in 2010. The calendar included an expensive watch, a new kitchen, and a yacht. Porsche only sold a very limited quantity of these calendars (only five in total, with the restriction that only one calendar could be sold on each continent whereon Porsches, are made). This calendar was about as exclusive as it gets.
The history of advent calendars tells us that they are about much more than Christianity in modern times. Advent calendars have significantly evolved from their earliest iterations. They mark an assembly point for the family at the end of the year, and Christmas would not be the same without them.