Day 2: Origins of the advent calendar

close up of christmas decoration

 You have opened window 2!


Ever wondered where some of our time honoured Christmas traditions come from? Take advent calendars for instance, what are they all about? And what do they have to do with western Christmas traditions?

What does advent mean?

Advent is the four week period starting on or around the end of November or early December. According to historians, it has been celebrated since the 4th century. The word itself comes from the latin for “coming” and is typically associated with the coming of Christ. It originally started as a time for new christian converts to stay sober and prepare for baptism.

Advent calendars begun to appear in the 18th century and is now simply a way of getting ready for a big christmas. Like most traditions associated with Christmas, advent calendars originated in Germany. German protestant christians used to mark doors and walls with chalk everyday up until the Feast of the Epiphany (when christian converts were traditionally baptised). The practice evolved over time, with some families lighting a candle everyday, or hanging a devotional image on their walls as a sign of penance before festivities.

The first wooden advent calendar


Depending on who you want to believe, advent calendars as we know them today started appearing circa 1902 – 1904. The Landesmuseum in Austria says that the first printed calendar was in the newspaper, Neues Tagblatt Stuttgart around 1904. It was inserted into the paper as a gift for it’s readers. Another source argues that the first bonafide calendar (with windows and pictures) was created in 1908 by Gerard Lang, who added small “doors” or “windows” to his design. In the 1920s, he opened his own little shop, producing 24 day calendars with images behind the windows. The second world war interrupted all this however, cardboard was rationed and it couldn’t be used for frivolous activities like printing pictures to make children happy and excited for a rationed Christmas.

The calendar reappeared after the war, when Richard Sellman of Stuttgart obtained a permit from US officials to start printing on cardboard. The company he started, Sellman – Verlog is still one of the biggest producers of advent calendars across the world today. Eventually, calendars with chocolate treats or candy hiding behind the windows started appearing. They became very popular in the US (and by extension the rest of the world) when Dwight D. Eisenhower was photographed opening one of the windows of one with his grandchildren.

The WPJ Advent Giveaway

Now, we’ve got calendars with jewellery in them and calendars with lego. There are calendars with prepackaged shots of gin for a truly boozy Christmas. In 2007, Harrods had a chocolate advent calendar worth over £30,000 for sale. And now there’s WPJ’s great Christmas advent calendar give away, where you could win terrific prizes by simply returning each day and clicking on that day’s open window.

This December, we’re treating our customers to surprises behind each window of our very own advent calendar. Be sure to come back each day to see what’s hiding behind that day’s window. You never know what you might find!

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