24 facts about the origins of the advent calendar

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 2:27 pm
Reading Time: 6 minutes

By Mike Atkinson and Tia Hoka | Drive Producer and Public Relations Officer

December 1st is today, which means it’s time to dig out the advent calendar from the cupboard under the stairs, or buy one from the store.

Chocolate lovers are rejoicing about the fact they can have indulge guilt free for 24 days, but do they know why we have advent calendars in the first place?

As there is 24 days on the standard calendar — not including those expensive ones with a chocolate bar on December 25 — we’ve dug up 24 facts on the origins of the advent calendar.


1. What does it mean and how old is it? The term itself derives from the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival or coming, and it has been celebrated since the fourth century.
2. When was it actually first used? By German Lutherans, in the 19th century. Families made tiny chalk strokes on their door (one per day), in the anticipation of the anniversary of Christ’s birth, until Christmas Eve.
3. Just chalk-marks? No, other early styles were the Advent-clock or the Advent-candle – basically a candle for each of the 24 days until Christmas, like todays Advent wreath. So in religious families little pictures were hung up on the wall – one for each day in December.
4. Who used Advent wreaths? These festive garlands have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe, where during heavy winters; people lit candles on oval-shaped branches of evergreens.

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5. How many candles? Four – to symbolize the four weeks of waiting, of course.
6. Are the candles traditionally white? Not all of them. Advent wreaths normally include three purple candles and one pink-coloured candle, which are arranged evenly around the wreath.
7. Is there a white one? Yes. Sometimes a fifth candle is placed inside the Advent wreath and this candle is lit on Christmas Day. It is white, the colour associated with purity and the birth of Jesus Christ.
8. Does Advent mean Christmas? Not really. Advent is not part of the Christmas season itself, but rather a preparation for it. Thus, Catholics do not sing Christmas hymns, or use Christmas readings, in Mass until December 25th, the first day of the Christmas season.
9. When did they throw the chalk and candles away? Around the 1900s. Back in those times, a German newspaper included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers.
10. Who invented the first printed calendar? It is a man called Gerhard Lang, who is widely credited with the invention.
11. How did he get the idea? When he was a child, his mother made him an Advent Calendar with 24 little candies which, all stuck on a tiny piece of cardboard.

Since he was part of a printing office, he got inspired by this lovely memory, and produced little coloured pictures which could be fixed on a cardboard, corresponding to each day in December. He published it in 1908 and saw that it became a commercial success in Germany.
12. Was it a continuous hit? More or less, yes. But production stopped due to a cardboard shortage during World War II.

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13. Did others get inspired by his idea? In 1946, another German publisher, Richard Sellmer from Stuttgart, revived the idea and focused his efforts on the US market, setting up a charity supported by President Eisenhower and his family. In 1953, he got the US patent and the calendar became an immediate success, earing Sellmer the title of “the General Secretary of Father Christmas”.
14. When did they add that sweet treat to it? Various little models filled with chocolate became available in 1958, first produced by Cadbury.
15. Chocolate in every single one? Sadly, no. Some calendars hide a little poem or a colourful picture behind their tiny wings.
16. Only Germany and America? Certainly not! There is a tradition of having a so-called Julekalender all over Scandinavia. The old Norse word Yule stands for Christmas and even though the Nordic version is also an Advent calendar, they do it in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December the 1st and ending on Christmas Eve.

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17. What about other takes on the calendar? Over the years, they have produced several kinds of these shows, some are directed at children, as well as adults and people watch them every time during the holidays, if for nothing else but purely nostalgic reasons. But even shops stock paper Julekalenders to accompany the series, with a window to open each day that ties in with the plot of the show.
18. How much does an Advent calendar cost? A couple of bucks, you say? Maybe more, if you want to get the four-foot tall, Christmas-tree shaped structure carved from burr elm and walnut wood available through Harrods in London, England. Each of the $50,000 calendar’s 24 compartments house a piece of organic chocolate from Green & Black, but don’t worry, the profits are going to support cocoa farmers in Belize.
19. What about if you would want to go bigger? Go to Germany, again. The town of Gengenbach on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany takes advantage of the fact that its picturesque 18th century town hall has 24 windows facing the main square. In late November the building is transformed into what the residents claim is the world’s largest advent calendar.
20. Is there an Advent calendar for Obama fans? Yes. Yes, there is. A piece of Obamania memorabilia is the $18 keepsake, that includes caricatures of John Edwards (“The Red-faced Reindeer”), Jesse Jackson (“The Nutcracker”), Bill Ayers (“Frosty the Weatherman”), and more. Naturally, Michelle and Barack Obama are behind the door on the 25th.
21. Advent Calendar for web geeks? It is out there! The self-proclaimed ‘Advent calendar for web geeks’ has provided a daily dose of web design and development tips during the Advent season since 2005. Last year’s collection included an article about using cleaner code with CSS3 selectors and another titled “HTML5: Tool of Satan, or Yule of Santa?”
22. Are you a LEGO enthusiast? There’s an Advent calendar for you, too. For several years, LEGO has produced an Advent calendar set, featuring tiny figurines or constructible accessories behind every numbered door. LEGO produced two versions of its Advent calendar and their LEGO City set includes a naked, showering Santa. Cool!
23. Is there an Advent calendar in space? We won’t disappoint you. There is! For the last couple of years, in the Big Picture photo blog you can see an Advent calendar of daily images from the Hubble Space Telescope. These spectacular images are picked by the blog editor, Alan Taylor.
24. Did you know that 98five has a dedicated Christmas station playing festive tunes 24 hours a day on our Extra station? Check it out here.

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