History of Advent Calendars


Once again, I find myself looking deeper into the things that everyone around me considers normal. And while most of my questioning is of the things that I spend the whole year around, this time, I began to wonder about something that has come with the final month of the year. That is to say, I started to think about where we get advent calendars from. As I child, these little doors brought me a small piece of joy, whether that be for the chocolate behind it or for the mystery of what would be to come at the end, on the twenty-fourth day. So where does this come from?

This tradition can be traced back to being of German origin, from around the 19th century. It didn’t originally start as being filled with little chocolate shapes or small fun prizes. It wasn’t always even a calendar. At first, it was lighting candles on the lead-up to Christmas as a way to track the time until the celebration of Christmas day. And then it was done using chalk marked on the wall. The first proper calendar was made from wood and was carved in 1851. The first printed advent calendar, however, by Gerhard Lang. He was inspired by his mother who would tape sweets to cardboard, one for each day on the lead-up to Christmas day. Upon growing up, he operated the Reichhold and Lang printing company where he printed the very first printed advent calendar, with twenty-four little pictures, with later printed editions having little doors, which creates a sense of mystery about what one is going to find behind them.

Nowadays, what is behind the little door on our printed advent calendars could be anything from everyday chocolate to small toys, projects, or puzzles. But this progression wasn’t smooth or continuous. During the Second World War, Nazi’s banned the printing of calendars with pictures and because of the shortage and subsequent rationing of the cardboard necessary, the calendar quickly went out of fashion, and with Lang’s business having been shut down, there was very little chance of this favorite holiday item making a resurgence. That is until after the war when a man named Richard Sellmar obtained the permit from American officials to begin the process of printing and selling these calendars once again. His company, Sellmar-Verlag, remains one of the most prominent makers of calendars to this very day.

Advent calendars are now a normal part of what is considered Christmas tradition, young children know Christmas is near when the music starts to play and parents are bringing advent calendars home with them. These things that were once for nothing more than to simply track the days have now evolved into an activity in anticipation of a coming celebration, with little rewards along the way.


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