The Advent Calendar; An Origin Story: From Candles to Caramels

When it comes to counting down the days to the holidays, nothing does it better than an Advent Calendar! These pocket-filled providers of sweets and treats are a sure-fire run-up to Christmas.  You get to open them up at the beginning of December, and, assuming you don't go hog wild and reveal every day all at once (hard not to do, believe us, we know), you get to enjoy an entire month's worth of presents every day. What could be better?

The advent calendar we know today has an origin story dating back hundreds of years..  Advent comes from the Latin “adventus” and means “arrival.”  Celebrated since the 4th century, Advent is a four-week period usually beginning on the Sunday closest to November 30th, or the feast day of St. Andrew.   It was meant to be a season of fasting and contemplation in preparation for the feast of Christmas. 

Actually marking the days of Advent is a tradition that dates back to the mid-19th century, when Germans made chalk marks on doors and boards or lit candles to count down the days leading up to Christmas.  The first printed advent calendar is credited to Gerhard Lang (1881-1974).  He created a printed version consisting of a card accompanied by 24 smaller illustrations that could be glued on for each day of the season.  It was included as an insert in a German newspaper.  Lang later modified his calendar to include the doors that are a staple of most of today’s Advent calendars. Production of his calendars stopped with the onset of World War II and a need to conserve paper.

Gerhard Lang  Advent Calendar

It wasn’t until 1946 that the Advent calendar we know today entered the world stage.  German publisher Richard Sellmer revived the idea and focused his efforts on the US market. He partnered with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, setting up a charity with the president and his family.  Eisenhower was photographed opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren.  The photo ran in several national newspapers and the Advent calendar was an immediate hit.  Sellmer became known as the “General Secretary of Father Christmas.”  His company still produces more than a million calendars a year in 25 countries.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren

To the everlasting thrill of sweet treat lovers everywhere, the first Advent calendars containing chocolate were produced by Cadbury in 1958.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fun Advent Calendar Facts:

The townhall in Gengenbach, Germany, is transformed into a life-sized Advent calendar every year.  It boasts 24 windows facing the main square.  Called the world’s largest Advent Calendar, a picturesque window is revealed each day leading up to Christmas.

Gengenbach, Germany, is transformed into a life-sized Advent calendar every year

One of the most expensive Advent calendars to hit the market was a four-foot, Christmas-tree shaped structure carved from wood.  It was available through Harrods in 2007. Priced at $50,000, each of the calendar’s compartments housed a piece of organic chocolate.  Proceeds supported cocoa farmers in Belize.

Topping the Harrods 2007 calendar is this year’s $112,000 Tiffany Advent Calendar. It is equipped with 24 opulent Tiffany pieces, ranging from diamond earrings to perfume, comes in Tiffany’s iconic blue, and is custom-designed after its flagship store front on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest Advent calendar was built in 2007 at the St. Pancras train station in London.  The massive calendar, measuring 233 feet tall and 75 feet wide, celebrated the reopening of the station following a renovation. 

the world’s largest Advent calendar was built in 2007 at the St. Pancras train station in London

Since 2008, the Hubble Space Telescope has counted down the days to Christmas. Each year, The Atlantic assembles breathtaking images from the Hubble, and creates the galaxy’s most stunning Advent Calendar. Every day until December 25, the publication posts a new, jaw-dropping image taken by the telescope.

Hubble Advent Calendara

In Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden the Advent Calendar often takes the form of a daily TV or radio show.

And, the best Advent calendar fact of all?  The United State’s first-ever all-caramel Advent calendar was published by McCrea’s Candies in 2019. Now, that's what we call a sweet ending!

 

Photo credits

Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Tabletop Cave

Trip Savvy

CDI UK

The Atlantic

 

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