Advent calendars have become a staple tradition of Christmas, helping us to count down the days from the 1st to the 25th December. Since their invention, they have evolved from having little doors which concealed a picture or a bible verse and now include gifts such as alcohol, make-up or even cheese.
The word ‘Advent’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘coming’. Advent calendars can be traced back to the 19th century when families would mark every day in December until Christmas Eve with a chalk line.
Originally, the four-week period known as Advent began as a time for converts to Christianity to prepare for baptism. It is now more commonly associated with the celebrated anniversary of Christ’s birth.
The first printed calendar
German-born Gerhard Lang is considered to be the producer of the first printed Advent calendar in the early 1900s. However, with the outbreak of World War II, cardboard became rationed in Germany and Lang was forced to close down his business in the 1930s.
It was forbidden to produce calendars with pictures at the time. Instead, the Nazis produced their own version of an Advent calendar – a pamphlet which included images with swastikas and tanks being blown up.
After the war, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart created a calendar based on a more traditional winter town scene. It was called “The Little Lown”.
By 1946, Sellmer had taken up commercial production of Advent calendars and was producing them en masse. In the 1950s, his calendars were exported to the US and had become more affordable.
The first chocolate Advent calendar appeared in 1958, but it was in 1971 that Cadbury joined the race and launched its own version in the UK. Cadbury produced Advent calendars intermittently from 1972 to 1986, but it wasn’t until 1993 that they finally became a mainstay.
Impressively, the Advent calendar company set up by Sellmer still operates today, producing over 140 different varieties of the product. To commemorate an important piece of history, Sellmer’s original Advent calendar design is still available for consumers to buy.