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Advent Calendar: What It Is and Where the Tradition Came From

Yulia V. Pasko

Associate Professor at the Department of German Language

The tradition of the Christmas calendar, also known as an advent calendar (Adventskalender in German), began in the mid-19th century. The calendar is a sort of clock allowing children to turn their anticipation for Christmas into something magical. It makes the time before the ‘advent’ more tangible.

For that reason, in around 1840 parents began thinking of different ways to bring their children’s attention to the 24 days before Christmas. They could, for example, stick colored pictures to the wall or window each day or make a tear-off calendar themselves, like in the Thomas Mann novel Buddenbrooks.

The advent calendar we know today did not always have 24 chocolates behind little doors and windows though. Thanks to Munich publisher Gerhard Lang, printed calendars consisting of two separate sheets came about at the very beginning of the 20th century. Each day, you could cut a small picture from one sheet and glue it to the other. Lang also thought up calendars in the form of little houses that could be filled with chocolate. He came to this idea thanks to his own childhood, when each year his mother would give him a piece of cardboard with sweets attached.

With time, advent calendars became more and more popular. The traditional type we are now used to came about after World War II in the 1950s, and people rarely think about the religious motives and traditions anymore. It is not only children who buy advent calendars; the little pieces of chocolate brighten up the mornings of adults now as well. In addition, some parents make their own advent calendars by hand, filling them with little sweets and presents that will bring joy to children for almost all of December.