All about the Advent calendar
Dec 20, 2017 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
With Christmas less than a week away it can seem like the hustle and bustle is reaching a fever pitch. All of this noise distracts us from the true meaning of the holiday season. What’s a vintage lover to do in the midst of a busy thrift and Etsy shopping schedule, while looking for the perfect last-minute gifts? Enter the Advent calendar – for most of us it conjures up sweet chocolate treats behind delicate cardboard doors – but not only is it the tastiest calendar on the market, it serves to remind us of the specialness of each day as we lead up to Christmas. So grab your hot cocoa, cuddle up in your knitted blankets, and settle in as we learn all about the Advent calendar…
The calendar, made specifically for the month of December, finds its root in German Protestant practices. In the 19th century, their “countdown to Christmas” practices expanded from candle lighting, hanging of images, and chalk marks on church facades to include Advent calendars. The first calendars were made of wood in the mid 1800s. As the printing industry evolved, soon consumers were smitten with large, paper calendars. The Advent calendar itself saw a spike in popularity when a prominent newspaper printed a special edition including a free Advent calendar for their loyal readers. Responding to this material shift, in the early 1900s German artist Gerhard Lang made the breakthrough that has lasted to this day: tiny doors to cover each day’s message. Many credit Lang as the inventor of our modern Advent calendar.
Fun fact: chocolate treats first appeared in Advent calendars in the 1950s
The artistry of these early calendars is truly stunning – verses were carefully selected to bring the splendor of Christmas to each day of the month. Sadly, with the rise of the Nazi party, calendars with imagery were banned. Combining this with an imposed ration on cardboard, the future of the Advent calendar was uncertain. But thanks to one intrepid artist, Richard Sellmar, the Advent calendar experienced a much-needed renaissance. After applying for a special permit to manufacture the calendars (America controlled his hometown of Stuttgart at this time and he had to work closely with the American authorities), his company set about creating unique and beautifully detailed calendars. Their first calendar, called “Little Town” was envisioned and handmade in his living room. On their site the company states: “And as different as the motifs of the Advent calendars and the preferences of the customers all over the world may be, sparkling silver dust and nostalgic romanticism are simply a must.” I find that a very powerful message – harmony is universal. What a perfect Christmas message (one that I hope carries beyond the confines of one month)!
While the origin for these calendars is placed in Germany, Americans adopted the tradition wholeheartedly in the mid 1950’s. President Eisenhower, photographed with one at the White House, helped make these calendars a centerpiece for most American celebrations. In some Nordic countries, the Advent calendar is such a foundational part of holiday traditions that entire television and radio shows are dedicated to the special meaning of each December day.
All of this talk about tradition has got me thinking – what if some of this focus could be channeled for the other eleven months of the year? If we focused on our blessings and were driven a little bit more by a desire for harmony during January to November, what could our future December’s look and feel like? Something to ponder during the quiet night-time glow of the twinkle lights… However you celebrate the season, dear readers, may you have hope in your heart, happiness in your step, and amazing vintage in your hands!