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What is an Advent calendar?

Advent calendars are an excellent way of getting people into the Christmas spirit. For every day in December, there is small door which can be opened and behind each door is a small gift. These gifts can come in many different forms, although chocolate is the traditional gift. Modern, store-bought Advent calendars often contain a certain brand of chocolates; these are usually sold in attractive Christmas-themed packaging. Other types, intended for adults, contain alcohol (either in the candy itself or in small bottled portions). There are also calendars that don’t come with any kind of edible, but rather are filled with toys.

There are two different ways to get to a calendar for Advent. The first is to buy the calendar from the store as normal or order one on the Internet. This takes little effort, but then you miss out on the fun of building one and filling it with presents yourself. The other way is to make a calendar on your own. The possibilities for this are manifold. There are small cardboard Advent calendars that will only last a single Christmas. Others are more stable due to being made of wood. The latter can be refilled every year, meaning you only need to do the work of building it once. All that’s left to worry about is filling it with gifts.

It is common for children to receive Advent calendars during the Advent season. Some even make their own, perhaps at school or in kindergarten. But there are also adults who enjoy taking part in this wonderful tradition, whether as a treat for themselves or friend or loved one. After all, adults have a wider range of options with regard to Advent calendars than children do. The average business will have found a way to include their product in an Advent calendar, provided it’s sufficiently small. There are also numerous theme calendars for adults (in some cases for children as well).

Price is another distinguishing factor. Those who fill their own calendars (or those of their children) are free to decide how much they wish to spend on the sweets or toys. Store-bought calendars come in all price ranges. This means that you can find calendars available for just a few Euros and also varieties that will put a much heavier strain on your wallet, for example one filled with real jewellery. Aside from jewellery , discerning women would also be delighted to receive an Advent calendar filled with cosmetics or fine chocolate. Men also appreciate chocolate, but perhaps moreso an Advent calendar that has something to do with their hobbies. For children, alongside the classic chocolate varieties there are calendars with toys, although these too come in many different styles and with a diverse array of gifts inside.

Table of Contents

What is the origin of the Advent calendar tradition?

Advent calendars turn the weeks before Christmas into something unique and special. Nowadays they are available in many different variations.
Whether it's bought or made, whether it’s pictures with stars or sage advice hiding behind the 24 doors, whether chocolate or a small gift to help shorten the run-up to Christmas, this calendar is perfect for any home and is popular not only with children, but adults as well.

The original Advent calendars were given to children to help them count down the days until Christmas. In the 19th century, the forerunners of the Advent calendar began appearing in various countries. Families would hang 24 pictures with various Christmas motifs and stories in their homes. Using chalk on cupboards and doors was also popular; every day one of the 24 chalk lines was wiped away.

The Austrians had a heavenly stairway which the Christ child descended, one step a day, during the Advent season. In Scandinavia, a candle was divided into 24 sections and each day a section was burned.
These historical examples as well as the Advent calendars of today are timepieces, visual representations of the number of the days until Christmas, meant to build anticipation of the coming event.
Gerhard Lang (1881-1974) is an important name in the history of the Advent calendar, being the first to develop a printed version. This Christmas calendar appeared in 1904. It had no doors, but consisted of two cardboard arches. Every day a picture could be cut out and glued to a corresponding area. A verse was printed in this area which the children were meant to read before sticking.

In the following years Gerhard Lang created new variants of the Advent calendar. These included chocolate-filled calendars; Advent trees with angels pinned to the branches; and also an adventure house, which had doors and windows covered with transparent colour paper. A candle could be put into the house. His idea was to create a calendar that had 24 doors to open.
In a short time, the 24-door calendars became especially popular throughout Germany.

During the Second World War the production of Advent calendars had to be discontinued due to lack of paper, and during the Nazi era, no Christian religious figures were allowed to be used during the Advent season.
This changed immediately after the end of the Second World War. Even as soon as 1945, Advent calendars containing Christian motifs were reappearing.
From then on the Advent calendar spread worldwide. Millions of them were manufactured in Germany and were exported to countries such as Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain and America.

Since the creation of the first Advent calendars in the 19th century, every year new and imaginative Advent calendars are made lovingly by hand, each with surprises hidden behind their 24 doors. Though the aesthetic and the content change with the times, Advent calendars are a timeless and joyous expression of the excitement of the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Why does an Advent calendar have 24 doors?

A commercial Advent calendar has 24 doors, provided it refers to the number of calendar days until Christmas, starting on 1 December. There are also calendars which cover only the church year; these usually count the days from the first Advent (which can fall between 27 November to 3 December) until Christmas. Accordingly, they can have more or fewer doors.

Meaning and purpose

Advent calendars heighten the anticipation for and shorten the wait until Christmas. They are available in many different variations but are usually meant for children. Behind every door is, for example, chocolate, or another surprise if the calendar was hand-made. Since the 1st of December, the beginning of the month, was set as the start date, the Advent calendar has twenty-four doors, the last of which is always the largest and contains a special surprise.

The origins of the Advent calendar

They probably originated in 1851, when the first self-made Advent calendar was created. Early Protestant families counted the days until Christmas by hanging 24 pictures on the wall, or the children wiped a line of chalk from the door every day. The Catholics, on the other hand, laid a straw in a manger every day, counting the remaining days until Christmas Eve. An alternative was the Christmas clock or an Advent candle, which could be burned every day to a certain mark. At the beginning of the twentieth century, calendars made for children were put into production by Gerhard Lang. Lang printed an arch with 24 little pictures, which the children could cut out and stick on each day. But this was simply called a "Christmas calendar" and did not even have small doors. The first calendars with doors were not released until about 1920.

The chocolate Advent calendar as we know it today was only invented in 1958. Before that there were other varieties, usually with either colourful pictures or verses from the Bible behind the doors.

What were Advent calendars originally for?

Of course, an Advent calendar isn’t necessary to remember that Christmas is coming soon. Nevertheless, these small, numbered doors and their hidden surprises prove to be endlessly fascinating for children. Here is a small outline of the historical development of this popular Christmas tradition.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word "Adventur", meaning "arrival". Historians estimate that Advent has been celebrated since the fourth century AD. Originally during the Advent period, converts to Christianity were preparing for their baptism. Over the centuries, the meaning of the Advent season changed to become the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The tradition of creating visual and physical representations of this day back to the early nineteenth century, when religious Protestant families drew a line in chalk over their front door every day in December until Christmas Eve. Another early form of expression of this tradition were Advent candles, similar to those still in use today. The number of candles used shrunk from one per day in December to just four, which is one per Advent Sunday.

The first copies of Advent calendars were all hand-made. Around the year 1900, Gerhard Lang succeeded in producing the first printed calendar with content in Germany. He was inspired by his mother, who gave him a self-made Advent calendar with a candy. Lang's first models did not have edible surprises, but were decorated with religiously inspired images.

Nevertheless, Lang had hit on something big. The company Sankt Johannis was the first to market the idea after the general public were made aware of them through the inclusion of free Advent calendars in newspapers. Instead of the religious motifs selected by Lang, Sankt Johannis decided to hide verses from the Bible behind the doors, which brought them a great deal of great success.

Above all, it was children’s enthusiasm for the calendars that caused a real boom in the industry. With the outbreak of the Second World War, that boom came to an abrupt end because the availability of cardboard and cardboard products was severely restricted.

In the 1950s, sales boomed again as in the old days, but this time in favour of the entrepreneur Richard Sellmer, who in 1946 founded a family business that is still the market leader in the Advent calendar industry and exports worldwide.

Around this time, the new Advent calendar tradition had also found some success overseas and was quickly integrated into the North American Christmas culture. The American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, is said to have been a major contributor to this development. He was photographed opening one of an Advent calendar’s doors together with his grandchildren. The photo was printed in several national newspapers, createing a lot of hype.

Over time, some unique and exceptional examples emerged. In 2007, one of the most expensive examples ever made was on sale at Harrod’s. A calendar made out of walnut wood carved in the shape of a Christmas tree, each of which contained a piece of organic chocolate, was sold for $ 50,000 apiece, with some of the proceeds going to assist poor cocoa farmers in Belize.

England was also the home for another record breaking Advent calendar. A building of the village of Gloucester has been transformed into the world's largest interactive Advent calendar. The motivation was an initiative to promote the local economy. Behind every window stood the logo of a local company, along with the specials deals they had going on during the Advent season.

How can I fill an Advent calendar?

A hand-made Advent calendar is only the beginning; after all, you also have to fill the calendar. Hopefully the following guide will help you find the right gifts for your Advent calendar.

1. Who is the calendar for?

Everyone wants to take part when it comes to Christmas and its traditions. That's why there are calendars not only for children, but for adults as well. If you want to find the right gifts to fill your hand-made calendar, consider first the personality of the recipient. Do they like chocolate? Are there certain nutritional concerns that, for example, exclude milk chocolate? Do they especially like something else? Also hobbies can be a great indication of a suitable gift. If you can’t come up with anything spontaneously, write down the things that you associate with the person on a piece of paper. You might come up with something great using this method.

2. Find gifts in the appropriate size

Another important factor is the size of the gifts. In most calendars only small-sized gifts will fit. The trick is to find them. If chocolates are ok, you can find them easily and there is a huge selection. Other types of sweets also work well. For this, just head down to your local supermarket and pick out your favourite treats. Other gifts are not as simple, however. Little known is that book stores can be great places to look for ideas, as aside from books and magazines, they also frequently sell small gift items. If you want to order the gifts online, you should buy them all at once. Since your gifts will be small, low-priced items, doing it all at once will save you on shipping costs.

3. Look at finished calendars

If you can’t think of anything, try looking at finished calendars. There is no longer just chocolate available: The choices range from calendars with cosmetic samples to calendars with miniature alcohol bottles.

4. Non-material gifts

Non-material gifts are especially good for adults. Take some attractive stationary and write down what you will do for the recipient when they redeem their voucher. For example, you can invite them to dinner or offer a massage.

5. Special ideas

If You still don’t have any ideas, you might want to consider the following:

  • Tea bags in different flavours
  • Small packages of bath salts or bath oils
  • Small packs of spices
  • A puzzle with exactly 24 parts
  • Accessories for crafts (small pearls, for example)
  • Fashion jewellery
  • A self-written poem with 24 lines/stanzas

How do I create an Advent calendar myself?

Not only children, but also adults look forward to a self-made Advent calendar. It’s a particular pleasure when the gifts hidden inside an original, hand-made Advent calendar were selected specifically with the recipient in mind. Every day starts with a new surprise.

Calendar for Advent - classic or individual piece?

Every year - even before worrying about the Christmas presents – people start preparing for the Advent season. What kind of Advent calendar should we get for our children, significant others or other loved ones? Advent calendars are on sale in shops long before Advent actually begins. The classic example, with the small doors outfitted with chocolate panes, is known to just about everyone, and these days it comes in all shapes and sizes. For children there are often 24 little sacks for hanging and self-filling. This is the easiest way to make an Advent calendar yourself. Of course, other varieties made of fabric, paper, cardboard or similar materials can also be constructed by hand. You are limited only by your imagination. The beauty of this is that you can orient your design to the preferences of the recipient. A lovingly hand-crafted Advent calendar is something special and much more enjoyable for the recipient than a store-bought version.

The way to the self-made Advent calendar

Constructing an Advent calendar requires basically two steps. On the one hand, you need decorative containers or storage options which can be combined well. They should not be too big, although the size will depend on the gifts: It is basically a matter of selecting same-size objects. On special days, such as Advent Sundays, you can pack larger gifts if you like.
The Advent calendar can consist of 24 individual containers or a compact element with 24 openings. The type you choose will depend above all on the amount of effort put forth and your own crafting skills. The simpler version is the combination of 24 containers. The design does not necessarily need guidance; here you can let the imagination run wild, experiment and do what you like.
Bags can be hand-made out of paper or fabric. If you do not want to sew or glue, you can make containers from cardboard rolls or paper cups, or simply wrap the presents in attractive paper.

A great idea is to hang the filled containers on a wreath or a particularly beautifully shaped branch. If you are skilled in crafts, you can also make your own mount using a guide, for example a tree built from pieces of wood with branches that the gifts hang from. Also a cardboard box in the shape of a house is a good option. However, these types of calendar require planning and careful execution. The mount must be strong enough for the gifts to remain in place before they’re opened.

What goes in?

In most cases, Advent calenders contain only small gifts. Larger gifts are usually reserved for Christmas. But depending on the receiver, an Advent calendar can be filled with very special presents. Self-made Advent calendars in particular open up a world of possibilities, with a wonderful surprise every single day until Christmas.
The gifts can be based on a theme. For chocolate lovers, for example, let them enjoy a sweet chocolate treat every day. This is also a great opportunity to give exotic or extravagant sweets. Children who like to read might look forward to a new Pixie book every day. Is the person a collector? Now is the perfect chance to expand their collection.
Alternatively, a nice mixture of little things that your loved one can enjoy, for example small, useful items, sweets, cosmetics or decoration, is always appreciated. Children especially love a daily surprise and wake up every morning hotly anticipating the chance to open the day’s gift.

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