Advent Calendars, The History Behind A Christmas Tradition

Advent calendars are a timeless tradition this time of year, but do you know the story of how they came to be?

First, the calendars are used to count the days until Christmas, beginning on December 1, which often time overlaps with the Christian season of Advent that can start as early as November in certain years.

Advent means, the expected arrival of an important person or event.

The 19th century is where we find evidence of the first calendars. The German Lutherans used to mark the 24 days until Christmas physically, sometimes by making a chalk line for each day.

Others would light candles or hang a religious picture on the wall each day.

In 1839, the first known Advent calendar was hung in a relief house in Hamburg, Germany. As to when the first printed calendar was made there is a dispute.

Some say it was produced by a Protestant shop, in Hamburg, in 1902, while others argue a parishioner was the first to make one in 1908.

Whatever the case, it’s a tradition that many, even non-Christians follow to this date.

Gerhard Lang, the Swabian parishioner, is credited with inventing today’s version of the Advent calendar, when the firm for which he was a printer for in 1908, made 24 little colored pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard.

Years later, he came up with the idea of the 24 little doors, for which he created and sold at least 30 designs, until his business closed shop in the 1930s.

During that time, another company had started producing Advent calendars with Bible verses behind the closed doors.

This gave way to the modern version that we know today, where 24 doors, are closed and one is opened each day to reveal the number of days left until Christmas Eve. Some have the numbers in descending order, to count down the days.

Sometimes there is a surprise, like candy or chocolate on the last door.

Other versions have images of Bible passages and some have Christmas decorations as the image behind the closed door.

German Advent calendar

The more commercial version of the Advent calendar uses a plush material instead of cardboard, so that a gift can be left for children each of the 24 days.

Many have criticized this type of calendar arguing that it loses the true meaning of them and Christmas.

Advent calendars have become a popular craft activity for families with young children as they can also be created with materials purchased at specialty stores.

Will you be displaying an Advent calendar in your home this holiday season? Tell us which kind you use.