The Advent Calendar: Counting Down the Days

By Monique Sammut | December 10, 2017
Waiting in Hope

Waiting is hard.  Very hard.  Even the most patient person can have trouble enduring suspense and expectation for a long period of time.  So why does the Church give us about four weeks when the sole focus is – waiting?  Advent is a time when we wait, prepare, and look forward to celebrating the coming of Christ at Christmas. To help pass the time, an Advent calendar can be used.

Using an Advent calendar can help focus our attention on important aspects of Advent and also to count down the days until Christmas.  An Advent calendar is a wonderful way to involve children in Advent traditions and to help them prepare for the coming of Baby Jesus.

The Evolution of a Tradition

The tradition of using Advent calendars originated in the mid-1800s.  German Protestants used to light candles or mark their doors with chalk to mark down the days leading up to Christmas.  They would mark 24 lines of chalk and then rub off one line every day of December.  Some European countries used a fir wreath, similar to a modern day Advent wreath that had 24 candles to be lighted each day.  Another tradition was hanging 24 bags or boxes on the wreath – one to open every day with a little present inside.

The first known handmade Advent calendar dates back to 1851.  Paper calendars became popular in the 1900s although the exact origins of the first calendars are unclear.  In 1904, an Advent calendar insert was included in a German newspaper.  The first “modern” Advent calendars originated in Germany and their creation is attributed to Gerhard Lang.  Lang based his calendar on one his mother had made for him by attaching colored pictures to cardboard and later adding little doors.  The calendars quickly became a success.  Around the same time, the Saint John Printing Company began printing religious Advent calendars containing Bible verses instead of pictures.

Lang had invented about 30 different Advent calendar designs by the time he had to close his company in the thirties due to World War II, the rationing of cardboard, and the banning of Advent calendars with pictures.  The creation of Advent calendars was revived after the war and quickly regained popularity.  In 1958, the first Advent calendar with chocolate was made but these only became popular in the 1980s.

The Advent Calendar Today

Advent calendars usually begin on December 1 and end on December 24/25 – Christmas Eve/Christmas.  Most of the calendars today are made out of cardboard and contain 24 or 25 windows that can be opened to reveal chocolate, play a song, or display an image, saying, or Bible verse.

Personal calendars can be made containing little goals, prayers, and/or sacrifices for every day of Advent or the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas.  Other types of calendars are made out of Legos, fabric, or wood.  Pop-up calendars have also been created.  The Jacquie Lawson online Advent calendar is beautiful and interactive for children.

There are many kinds of Advent calendars – many more than can be mentioned.  Some calendars have retained a Catholic/Christian perspective true to the real meaning of Advent.  However, many others take a more secular approach.

A picture was taken of President Eisenhower opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren.  This picture was then distributed nationally in several newspapers.  It is said that because of this picture the tradition of the Advent calendar came to the United States.

Record Breaking Advent Calendars

There are some Advent calendars whose creativity is worth mentioning:

England is home to the largest Advent calendar in the world.  It is 232 feet high and 75 feet wide in Saint Pancras Station in London.  The calendar was build to commemorate the renovation of the station in December 2007.

What is believed to be the smallest Advent calendar in the world is 8.4 nanometers by 12.4 nanometers and it could fit in a postage stamp 5 million times.  It was created in Germany by a group of nanotech specialists.

The world’s most expensive Advent calendar was made in 2010 by the Belgian company Octagon Blue GCV.  It cost roughly the equivalent of $2,228,190 and was made with gold, diamonds, and filigree glass artwork.  There are 24 diamonds with numbers carved on them for every day of December preceding Christmas.

Advent is for Everyone

Advent calendars do not have to be big or grand in order to be special and useful.  It should provide us with a tool to help us in our waiting for Christmas.  The world waits for that most holy night when we celebrate the birth of our Redeemer!

In the words of an Advent hymn:

“Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel – while we are waiting come!”