History of the Advent Calendar

We all love an Advent Calendar at Christmas - but where did the idea originally start?


Most people would agree that one of the absolute best bits about Christmas is an Advent Calendar. The excitement as you open the small cardboard door each day, anxious to see what treat you might find inside (either edible or otherwise)! But where did the idea of an ‘Advent Calendar’ come from? On the first day of our own virtual calendar here on The Hoot, let me take you back in time to discover their origin of the famous Advent Calendar…

 

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin phrase “coming toward.” For Christians, the period of Advent marks “coming toward” the most important date in their year: the birth of Christ on December 25th.

However, the idea of physically marking Advent actually has its roots in late 19th century Germany, when the Lutherans - one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identify with the teaching of Martin Luther, a 16th-century German reformer - would burn candles each day, or most notably, made chalk marks on doors from December 1st until the 24th. Starting to connect the dots?

However, while we now know the origin of the word 'Advent' in the name, where did the idea of combining this religious tradition with cardboard calendars come from?

Nowadays there are two contenders for what we consider the very first Advent Calendars. According to the Landesmuseum in Austria, the very first calendar was produced in Hamburg in 1902 by a protestant bookshop owner. However, many others claim that the first hand made calendar was actually made in Germany in the late 19th century for a child named Gerhard Lang. Remember that name - he's important.

One year, Lang’s mother stuck 24 tiny sweets to a square of cardboard for her son to eat over the Advent period. This very simple idea inspired and stayed with Lang even until he was as an adult, where he then went into partnership with his friend Reichhold to open a printing office. In 1908 they produced what is thought to be the first-ever printed Advent Calendar.

This particular calendar set the groundwork for those we see today, with small pictures marking every day between 1st and 24th December. It was then a few years later that Lang introduced the concept of 24 little doors for each day, with the aim of giving each new picture an element of surprise and excitement. Thus, the idea of the Advent Calendars we all know and love to this day was born.

As the First World War in 1914 came about there was a temporary halt to the manufacture of these calendars, however it was only a minor setback - Lang's creation had already taken hold and swept the nation.

Lang’s business itself sadly came to an end itself in the 1930s, but the idea was so beloved that other printing companies, such as the Sankt Johannis Printing Company, began to produce similar Advent Calendars, albeit with a slightly more religious theme (with Biblical verses replacing the pictures behind the doors).

The Advent Calendars took another, rather large, hit around the time of the Second World War. Due to paper shortages, the Advent Calendars could no longer be printed in the full force that they were once, and they slowly began to drift out of popularity. However, in 1946, as rationing began to ease and tensions settled from the Second World War, a printer named Richard Sellmer miraculously brought back the idea of Advent Calendars, this time introducing them to children all over the Western World. From there, they became a global phenomenon and became a part of Christmas tradition as much as trees, cards and gifts are.



Wishing yule a Merry Christmas!

And that, dear reader, is where our history lesson ends. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go pop open the first door on my Advent Calendar!

(Oh, and just a heads-up: make sure to keep checking The Hoot every day to check out all 25 days of our virtual Advent Calendar! You won't regret it!)


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Sam Kenealy

Sam is a member of the Students Association staff team.

2 Comments

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    1. Hi Rebecca, great spot! A bit of a faux pas on my part while researching – had accidentally looked at the wrong Landesmuseum, not realising there are quite a few (and a much more common word than I initially assumed). Thank you for letting me know!