Next Sunday, November 29, marks the beginning of Advent, the four-week period in the Christian calendar leading up to Christmas. Derived from “adventus,” the Latin word for “arrival,” Advent began approximately sixteen hundred years ago as time for Christians to prepare, often by fasting, to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Today many people around the world count down the days to Christmas via specially made Advent calendars.
The first Advent “calendars” can be traced to nineteenth-century Germany, when Lutherans tallied the days leading up to Christmas by making chalk marks on their doors or lighting candles (the precursor to Advent wreaths). Some sources report the first paper calendar was handmade in 1851; others point to a later date, nearer the turn of the century.
In 1904, keepsake Advent calendars were inserted into the newspaper Neues Tagblatt Stuttgart as a gift for readers. Around the same time, German printer Gerhard Lang, inspired by childhood memories of his mother’s Advent tradition of sticking candies to a board, fashioned small pictures that could be attached to a piece of cardboard, one for each day until Christmas. He later created a calendar with small doors that opened. Soon after, Sankt Johannis Printing Company began making more overtly religious Advent calendars, with doors that opened to reveal Bible verses.
Cardboard rationing took a toll on Advent calendar production during World War II, but the popular tradition quickly regained ground in the late 1940s. American servicemen stationed in Germany after the war helped to introduce Advent calendars to the United States, as did Dwight Eisenhower after newspapers ran a 1946 photograph of his grandchildren with Richard Sellmar Verlag’s “Little Christmas Town” Advent calendar.
Today’s Advent calendars range from cardboard to wood to fabric, their doors (or drawers or pockets) opening to reveal pictures, small gifts, or (our personal favorite) pieces of chocolate. In 2007, Harrod’s of London offered a 4-foot-tall, $50,000 tree-shaped Advent calendar crafted from burr elm and walnut wood.
For more than ten years, Bas Bleu has offered a popular range of Advent calendars, many imported directly from Germany, to help our readers count down the days to Christmas in style. We also love this idea for creating your own bookish advent calendar for young readers with energy to burn during the holiday season. However you choose to celebrate the season, we hope it fills you with joy!