Advent Calendars And The Christmas Countdown

Dating back to the early nineteenth century, Christians have used advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas Day, usually beginning from the first day of December.  The actual advent season can begin as early as 27 November or as late as 3 December. Some modern advent calendars extend all the way to the end of December, counting down the days until New Year’s Day.

Today’s Advent Calendars

Also sometimes called countdown calendars, advent calendars today consist of two pieces of connected card, one on top of the other, with 24 small, numbered window-flaps cut into the top layer. Behind each window is a picture or sometimes a chocolate or even a small toy. The 24th window, signifying the last day before Christmas, usually has an especially big chocolate or toy behind it.

Advent calendars typically depict images associated with Christmas, like bells and holly, and include images of a Nativity scene in the 24th window. However, some modern calendars don’t contain nativity scenes or any Christmas-related images or gifts at all. For example, LEGO has released an advent calendar that has one LEGO piece behind each window, so that you can build a 24-piece figurine by Christmas Day.

The History of the Christmas Countdown

The tradition of the advent calendar can be traced back to the German Lutherans, who physically marked their houses to count down the days until Christmas. Most commonly they would mark each day with a line of chalk on their front doors. However, some families would count the days down by adding a new religious picture to the walls each day – a precursor to the nativity scenes behind the windows or doors of modern advent calendars.  Other people would light candles to mark each of the 24 days leading to Christmas, which some speculate could be the source of today’s “advent wreath”.

The first known advent calendar was made by hand in 1851 by an Austrian craftsman, and the first advent calendars were printed in Germany in 1908, by Gerhard Lang. Lang was a printer in the Reichhold & Lang firm in Munich. He produced 24 small coloured images that could be stuck onto a small dated calendar. Later the firm introduced a calendar that revealed a picture on each day – and by 1930, the firm had gone on to create and market over 30 designs.

The Nordic Julkalender

Not everyone counts down to Christmas Day in the same way. In the Nordic countries, including Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, what’s known as a Julkalender is broadcast simultaneously on radio and television. This is a show with special themed content, aired each day to count down the days until Christmas. Some broadcasts are specially targeted at children and others have content for more mature viewers, so everyone gets to join in the fun.

Featured images:
  •  License: Creative Commons image source
  •  License: Creative Commons image source
  •  License: Creative Commons image source

Post courtesy of Jeff from – a chocolatier based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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