History of the Advent Calendar

Christmas Advent Calendar
Christmas Advent Calendar

The Advent Calendar would appear to be a Christmas tradition that that does not date back to Pagan or Roman times, but is in fact in relatively modern. As with many of the traditions of Christmas, the origins are from Germany.

German Lutherans and Advent

The tradition dates back to the early 19th Century, with German Lutherans. Some scholars believe they would mark, with a piece of chalk, on their doors each day up to and including Christmas Eve. Others claim that it could have been a new candle which was lit each day or small religious images or pictures were hang on the wall.

1851 the first know Advent Calendar was made, it was hand made, but it is not credited to anyone. There was also the Advent Clock. A candlestick holder that would have held 24 candles.

The First Printed Advent Calendar

The first printed calendar is disputed. It is known that a Christian bookshop in Hamburg produced a ‘Christmas Clock’ in 1902. The Landesmuseum in Austria claim that the first printed Advent Calendar was in 1903, in 1904 the Stuttgart newspaper ‘Neues Tagblatt’ inserted a Calendar as a gift to its readers. But many scholars believe that Gerhard Lang, a Swabian parishioner was the creator of the first printed calendar in 1908.

It is generally agreed that Lang was the founder of the modern Advent Calendar. He worked for a printing firm called Reichhold & Lang based in Munich. He produced 24 small coloured pictures backed onto some cardboard. Later he introduced the classic 24 little doors or windows, and was responsible for approximately 30 designs. His main competition before his company ceased in the 1930’s, was the Sankt Johannis Printing Company who produced religious Advent calendars. Instead of pictures they included verses from the Bible behind the doors.

During the Second World War, the Advent Calendar disappeared, probably to save paper. Ironically it was a Stuttgart printer, Richard Sellmer who re-introduced the commercial Advent Calendar in 1946.

Classic Advent Calendar Format

The classic Advent Calendar has just 24 windows, the first window is opened on the 1st December and the last of which is opened on Christmas Eve. (Some American Advent Calendars have 25 windows.) It is made of two pieces of cardboard. The bottom has the pictures and the top the windows, which sit over the pictures. The two pieces are stuck together. Traditionally the pictures were religious and related to the birth of Jesus, like bells and holly. The window of the 24th hid a picture of the Nativity behind it. But this has changed over the years and replaced with other pictures like Father Christmas and snowmen.

In turn the traditional cardboard Advent Calendars has to compete with chocolate Advent Calendars. The pictures are replaced by pieces of chocolate, which have become less related to Christmas. Luxury Advent Calendars, such as from Harrods, the London store, had a chocolate Advent Calendar priced over £30,000 in 2007. But more realistic luxury calendars are produced by both Lego and Playmobil. There are also cloth calendars that have a small pocket or pouch for each day and small toys or gifts are placed in them. And the most recent development of the calendar, is the Online Advent Calendar.

Advent Calendars are not just confined to the home. In Dresden, Germany there is a huge calendar built for its Christmas market, the Striezelmarkt. The Rathaus in Gengenbach, Germany has 24 of its windows decorated by an illustrator and are revealed one day at a time. Julekalender in Scandinavia is a popular television programme where a series of stories are shown each day.
Be sure to read our article on the Top 10 Advent Calendar Images.