by Jessica Kosinski
The Holiday Season is full of many traditions. Some are familial, some are cultural, and some are based on specific religious beliefs. Many of us have specific holiday traditions, but we do not necessarily understand the origins of those traditions. For example, you may have frequently enjoyed popping open an Advent calendar window and seeing a fun winter scene or a chocolate behind it, yet you may not fully understand the history of it. Let’s take a peek at how it all started and why Advent calendars are integral parts of holiday traditions still in many homes today.
The Meaning of “Advent”
The word “advent” is derived from the Latin language. It translates to “coming.” In the Christian religion, that “coming” can refer to the birth of Jesus, how Jesus is said to presently influence people, or the eventual return of Jesus in the future. However, the Advent calendar is essentially a four-Sunday countdown to Christmas.
Four Sundays before Christmas is called “Advent Sunday.” It can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3. From that date forward, one window on the calendar is opened each day. There are also some variations. For example, Advent begins annually on November 15 for Celtic Christians.
Early Advent Observances and Methods
There is no known concrete date on which Advent was first observed. However, there are several early records of similar observances. One of the earliest was in 567 when monks fasted for Advent. Today, some Christians still fast for Advent.
Another type of Advent observance occurred in 1800s Germany. German Protestant Christians used chalk to mark the days of Advent. On the first day, they drew multiple chalk lines on their doors. Each day they erased one line until Christmas finally arrived and all lines were gone.
Many families also observed Advent in other ways. One popular method was the use of candles, somewhat like the Jewish Hanukkah celebration. When celebrating Advent using candles, they are usually arranged in a wreath. The first Advent wreath/candle Combination was created in 1839 in Germany. Smaller candles were used to represent weekdays leading up to Christmas, while larger candles were lit on Sundays.
The Earliest Advent Calendars
Although the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas is considered “Advent,” the Advent calendar as we know it today typically starts on December 1, no matter when Advent Sunday actually falls in any particular year. Today, most Advent calendars we know and love feature windows we can open and chocolates we can eat, but that has not always been the case. Many early advent calendars simply featured winter scenes.
The earliest Advent calendars as we know them today were produced in Germany in the early 20th century. A printing company called St. Johannis published one of the earliest mass-printed Advent calendars in 1922. Although, the first creation of what we know now as an Advent calendar is commonly credited to another German source, a man named Gerhard Lang, who produced one in 1908.
How the Advent Calendar Tradition was Almost Lost, Saved, and Americanized
Advent calendars today are often made of cardboard. The same was true of earlier calendars – they typically required paper or cardboard for production. That is why the use of Advent calendars almost ceased during World War II. Paper and cardboard shortages made them impossible to mass-produce. In 1946 Richard Sellmer produced the first post-World War II Advent calendar.
Here in the United States, Advent calendars have not enjoyed the same long history they have in Germany. It was not until Dwight D. Eisenhower became President that Americans were really introduced to them. During his term in office, which lasted from 1953 to 1961, he was caught on camera opening an Advent calendar with members of his family. The tradition soon took off across the country.
Some of the Most Unusual Advent Calendars
Today, you can buy a cardboard, candy-filled Advent calendar in almost any department store come December. They are quite inexpensive and fun. However, it might interest you to know not all Advent calendars are as inexpensive, traditional or disposable. Some are quite unusual and occasionally expensive.
The most expensive American Advent calendar ever made was sold by Harrod’s in 2007. It was made of wood and stood approximately four feet tall. Several were made, and each had a price tag of $50,000. The proceeds from their sales were used to assist cocoa farmers based in Belize. Another Advent calendar also produced in 2007 is also among the most unusual. It was created in London for display at St. Pancras train station. It stood nearly 233 feet tall and over 75 feet wide.
If you are interested in finding unusual Advent calendars you can purchase and use, you do not have to look very far either. Traditional Advent calendars all featured winter scenes, but now they come in all styles and themes. Some feature favorite movie characters or quotes. Others are based on pop culture, such as LEGO Advent calendars. You can even find an Advent calendar with a theme based on your favorite animal or hobby. With all of those choices, you can keep the Advent calendar tradition alive in your family for many years to come.