Counting down the days: The history of the advent calendar

Counting down the days

The history of the advent calendar

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The advent calendar is a true staple of Christmas-time tradition. With the word ‘advent’ being derived from the Latin phrase for ‘arrival’ or ‘coming toward’, the advent calendar is a way to mark the days counting down to the celebration of the birth of Christ and Christmas Day.

The notion of an advent calendar is thought to have started in Germany in the late 19th century where German Lutherans would draw chalk marks on their doors or walls from December 1st until the 24th to mark the passing of each day in the lead up to their religious celebration.

When were sweets and chocolates introduced as part of the countdown?

If historic accounts are to be believed it was somewhere before the turn of the century that the mother of German child, Gerhard Lang stuck 24 sweets to a square of cardboard suggesting to her son that he could eat one each day in the lead up to Christmas Day. 

As an adult Lang opened a printing office with a friend and remembering this tradition of his mother’s produced what is thought to be the first professionally printed advent calendar around the beginning of the 1910s.

Lang also had the idea of adding the (now iconic) little cardboard doors to create an element of surprise not knowing which sweet would sit behind each day’s door.

Lang continued producing advent calendars up until the 1930s when cardboard rationing during World War II forced him to close his business.

After the war, Richard Sellmer, another German, began producing chocolate-filled cardboard advent calendars once more. They were exported to the US and gained popularity there after being featured in a family photograph of President Eisenhower and his grandchildren in 1953.

Sellmer’s company continues to produce advent calendars to this day.

In the 1970’s Cadbury jumped on the advent calendar trend and started selling chocolate-filled varieties in the UK that we know and love today. 

Since their invention advent calendars have evolved with varieties now including 24 samples of anything from beer, to cheese, to beauty products.

In 2020 Tom Daley showed off an advent calendar he received from The Crochet Society where behind each door was a length of yarn and a link to an online video teaching a new crochet stitch.

The owner of the calendar would use the yarn and new stitch technique to crochet themselves a blanket over the first 24 days of December, ending up with a cosy handmade blanket to show off to their family on Christmas Day.

history of the advent calendar

With seemingly endless possibilities and varieties, the advent calendar is a Christmas tradition limited only by creativity and definitely one that is here to stay.