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A History of Advent Calendars

As many of you will know, Advent is the period of time for the four Sundays and weeks before Christmas. It can therefore vary depending on the way Christmas falls. The earliest the first day of Advent can be is 27th November. This year they are on 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd of December. But most re-usable advent calendars start on 1st December and count down to Christmas Eve – 24th December.

Advent means 'Coming' in Latin. And so relates to the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use these four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

The tradition is said to date back to the mid-19th century, when German Protestants made chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count the days leading up to Christmas. Although some also state the tradition was originally started with candles by the Swedish and Norwegians and given that many of them would be in darkness at this time of year, it’s easy to understand why they would start such a tradition.

Another Christian tradition is the Advent wreath, or Advent crown. It symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent and while it started as traditionally Lutheran practice, it has now spread to many other Christian denominations.

The Advent wreath is usually a horizontal evergreen wreath, much like our traditional wreaths we hang on the front door. The Advent wreath holds four candles, and sometimes a fifth white candle in the centre. On the first Sunday of Advent the first candle is lit accompanied by a service. Each candle is then lit on the following Sundays leading up to Christmas. If the fifth candle is present it is lit on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Each of the four candles symbolize different emotions. The Prophets' Candle, symbolizing hope; the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing faith; the Shepherds' Candle, symbolizing joy; the Angel's Candle, symbolizing peace.

But most people think of Advent calendars as printed versions, showing religious or wintery scenes. Each has 24 windows you open, one each day, on the run up to Christmas. Behind each window is an illustration. The first printed calendars are believed to have been made by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. As with many things the World Wars stopped this tradition as cardboard was rationed but then it restarted in 1946 and even as early as 1958 there were chocolate filled advent calendars on sale. Chocolate was added as a way to get children interested in the true meaning of Christmas.

In the past few years the popularity of Advent calendar has grown enormously, and once again they are not just for children. Alcoholic and various food based calendars, even cheese!, now seem to be everywhere we shop. And those with slightly deeper pockets can get ones with expensive toiletries and even jewellery. But children’s advent calendars have also seen a huge amount of variation and they are often as hotly in demand as Christmas presents themselves. The first Lego Advent Calendar is the perfect example. Here at Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, we also produced our first Advent Calendar for children 3 years ago. It was such a great success we designed another one last year. The base jigsaw is like many of our puzzles, with larger pieces, perfect for children, and of course includes our themed whimsy shaped pieces. But the difference is each puzzle comes with 24 vertical stand-up pieces each numbered 1-24. You put one vertical puzzle piece in the correct slot on the main jigsaw puzzle every day until Christmas Eve. Marrying up the numbers adds an educational element to this traditional gift. And of course it can be used year after year, becoming a family heirloom.

But why such a growth in the humble advent calendar? Christmas has always been a time when families get together, and advent calendars are a wonderful way of extending that Christmas feeling of good will. A small treat each day on the run up to Christmas has become an almost essential part of Christmas these days. And in times when we’re all pressured into buying more and more at Christmas, Advent calendars are generally an inexpensive way to build the excitement as the big day approaches.

A few more facts and figures about Advent Calendars:

The largest Advent Calendar is 71m high and 23m wide and was built at St Pancras Station in London to commemorate the refurbishment in December 2007.

The most valuable advent calendar was valued at a staggering £2,100,000 and was created by Octagon Blue GVC from Belgium and valued on 30th November 2010. The calendar was made up of 24 glass tubes each containing a diamond wrapped in silver. The glass tunes each featured and angel and in total the calendar contained 124 diamonds!

And even with the explosion of Advent calendars on the market, the interest in traditional printed calendars, plus home made ones still, remains. Germany, the source of these wonderful products, still creates the most amazing ones and in towns all over Germany they take the humble Advent Calendar to new heights. Sometimes even turning whole buildings into ones.

A History of Advent Calendars