Countdown to Christmas - A History of the Advent CalendarPosted: 1st of December 2014 by
It’s December the 1st, and so many of us are opening our advent calendars for the first time this year, but what is the advent calendar all about, and when did it first come into use?
These days advent calendars are used to count down the days until Christmas, and are used by people whether they are religious or not. However, they originally have ties to Christian tradition dating right back to the fourth century (the ‘300s,’ if you will).
Advent is the four week period beginning with the Sunday following the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30th). Historians believe that advent was originally a time for Christian converts to prepare for baptism, but is now more closely associated with the countdown to the festive celebrations of Christ’s birth on December 25th.
While the traditions of advent go back several centuries, the use of calendars is much more recent – dating back to 19th century Germany, where Protestants would use chalk to mark the days or light candles for each day leading up to Christmas, beginning on December 1st.
Of course, today we use printed advent calendars with doors that can be opened to reveal a picture, some chocolate, or even small gifts. The first printed advent calendar is also believed to have originated from Germany, and was produced by Gerhard Lang in the 1900s.
Lang’s calendar was inspired by those that his mother would make for him as a boy, including 24 coloured pictures attached to a piece of card. Lang added the doors to his design, and his advent calendars became hugely popular in his native Germany, soon being produced by a number of different companies. The German production of advent calendars was briefly stopped due to a cardboard shortage during World War II, but resumed shortly afterwards.
Since these earliest days, the Advent calendar has become popular around the world and changed and adapted over the years. However, they all include a version of Lang’s original format of opening a door for each day leading up until Christmas day itself.
While you can buy an advent calendar quite cheaply on the high street, there have been some surprisingly expensive advent calendars produced over the years. Harrods created a £50,000 advent calendar in 2007, made of burr elm and walnut, the 4 foot tall, Christmas Tree-shaped calendar included 24 pieces of Green & Black chocolate, with the proceeds going to support cocoa farmers in Belize.
While a 4-foot calendar may seem excessive it is far from being the largest advent calendar ever produced, with a whole building in Gloucester once being turned into a giant advent calendar! Each window would open to reveal a promotional logo for a different business in the city that was offering special discounts running up until Christmas Day.
Many businesses have hopped onto the idea of the Advent Calendar, with notable ones including Lego, who include figures or small accessories behind each door. Elsewhere Advent Calendars have also gone digital, with the Hubble Space telescope even having sent pictures from space each day and publishing them on The Big Picture photo blog.
So, whether or not you are Christian, it seems that there is an advent calendar out there for pretty much everybody – helping to build the excitement for Christmas - one day at a time!
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