Who doesn’t remember those excruciatingly exciting Pre-Christmas days of anticipation from their childhood? You can’t wait for the big day, and you wish you could just count down the days on a special calendar that prepares you day-by-day for the awesomeness of the Christmas Day experience. Apparently, others did have the same idea, even as far back as the 19thcentury. The first homemade advent calendar probably originated around 1850 in Germany, but simpler forms may have existed earlier than that. Some families drew 24 chalk lines on a wall, and the children got to erase one line each day. There is no ONE specific form of this special calendar, but the most common incarnation today is the cheap cardboard calendar with 24 numbered little doors and a small piece of—generally equally cheap—chocolate waiting behind each door. Traditionally, Christian calendars started on the first Sunday of Advent, which may actually fall in November, but secular calendars began the countdown on December 1st and ended on Christmas Eve. The first commercial advent calendar was published in 1902 in Hamburg in the form of a Christmas clock for children. A year later, a publisher in Munich sold an advent calendar that featured 24 empty spaces and a sheet of pictures which the children had to cut out and glue onto the calendar. But many families created their own advent calendar traditions. Some mothers created a calendar with home-baked cookies or small trinkets that were supposed to sweeten the long wait until Christmas. More religious versions feature small pictures of Christmas-related items like angels, stars, or garlands behind the numbered doors. Some German cities decorate their city halls to look like giant advent calendars, but the biggest free-standing advent calendar is in Leipzig and has doors that are about 5 ft. by 8 ft. Some towns have started “live” calendars that feature a different decorated window or house around town each day. Of course, the digital age offers its own version of the Christmas calendar with online calendars that present a beautiful picture or animated clip for each day. And the best thing about advent calendars today: they’re not just for children anymore. Many adults enjoy the tradition as well, in whatever form suits them. Maybe this beloved custom just reminds them of the good old days of their childhood—or maybe they’re just in it for the chocolate.
If you are looking for ideas to make your own advent calendar, check google.de for images
If you are looking to buy one of the chocolate calendars in the U.S., try Trader Joe’s, which is owned by Theo Albrecht, one of the German “ALDI” brothers. They usually sell the chocolate advent calendars for a very reasonable price.
A worksheet from Klett about various German advent customs (in German).
A short easy German video about how the first advent calendar was invented.
A German audio file about advent customs (level B1).
More information about German advent customs in general (in German).