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Advent Calendar

Updated on December 5, 2008

The Tradition Started in Germany

Advent calendars are a relatively new tradition that began about 200 years ago in Germany.

The tradition began in the Protestant areas of Germany where some families began preparing for Christmas by marking off the days from December 1st. The process varied from simple chalk marks on a wall or door to more elaborate things, like pasting a seasonal picture on the wall each day, lighting a new candle each day, etc. All had the goal of providing the children with a visual count of the days until Christmas.

In addition to helping the children count down the days until Christmas, these activities also helped the children to enjoy the anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday and celebrate Christmas as the highlight of a season-long event rather than as a solitary holiday. In addition to anticipating the coming holiday, the daily ritual of lighting a candle, drawing and hanging a picture on the wall, etc. served as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Christmas and its associated joys of caring and sharing with others. Just as the expected visit of St. Nicholas on the night of December 5th (eve of St. Nicholas Day) or Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, causes children to reflect and improve upon their behavior in order to receive a present from St. Nick or Santa, the Advent Calendar is also an activity with which families can help their children learn the deeper meaning of the season.

By the middle of the nineteenth century the Advent Calendar had become common in the Protestant areas of Germany. The dawning of the twentieth century saw the publishing of Advent Calendars commercially in Germany. Many were constructed with the dates on one page like a regular calendar. However, behind each date was a seasonal picture and/or verse. As each new day dawned the child would break the perforation for that date and turn back that day's number like a page to expose the picture/verse underneath. The tradition continued in Germany until World War II shortages caused them to be discontinued.

After World War II publishing companies again began producing Advent Calendars and the tradition spread beyond Germany. Little pieces of chocolate or other candy were added to many calendars. Now when the child opened that date they found a both a piece of candy (usually in the form of a seasonal object) along with a picture or verse.

Advent calendars are becoming more popular today and can often be found in stores like Wal-Mart and Walgreen's as well as European specialty shops in America. They can also be found on numerous sites on the Internet.

© 2006 Chuck Nugent

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