A Brief History of Advent Calendars

You don't need an Advent calendar to know that Christmas is coming, but opening a little numbered door to reveal a prize is an idea that everyone – religious or not – can get behind. Here’s a brief history of Advent calendars and six non-traditional designs of a popular tradition.

What is Advent?
Advent is the four-week period beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle (November 30) through the following three Sundays. Historians estimate that Advent, which derives from the Latin word for coming, has been celebrated since the fourth century. The period originally began as a time for converts to Christianity to prepare for baptism, but is now more commonly associated with the anticipation of the anniversary of Christ’s birth on December 25.

Advent Calendar Origins
Advent calendars typically don’t follow the period of Advent described above. Instead, they begin on December 1 and mark the 24 days before Christmas. Today, most Advent calendars include paper doors that open to reveal an image, Bible verse, or piece of chocolate. The tradition dates to the mid-19th century, when German Protestants made chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count the days leading up to Christmas.

The First Printed Advent Calendars
Gerhard Lang is widely considered the producer of the first printed Advent calendar in the early 1900s.

Around the same time, a German newspaper included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers. Lang’s calendar was inspired by one that his mother had made for him and featured 24 colored pictures that attached to a piece of cardboard. Lang modified his calendars to include the little doors that are a staple of most Advent calendars today and they became a commercial success in Germany. Production stopped due to a cardboard shortage during World War II, but resumed soon after, with Richard Sellmer emerging as the leading producer of commercial Advent calendars. One of Sellmer’s calendars, “Little Town,” is pictured above.

I Like Ike and Ike Likes Advent Calendars
Dwight D. Eisenhower is often credited for the proliferation of the Advent calendar tradition in the United States. During his presidency, Eisenhower was photographed opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren and the photo ran in several national newspapers.

Here’s a look at six non-traditional Advent calendars that we think would make Gerhard Lang proud.

The $50,000 Advent Calendar

One of the most expensive Advent calendars to ever hit the shelves was a four-foot, Christmas-tree shaped structure carved from burr elm and walnut wood available through Harrods in 2007. Each of the $50,000 calendar’s 24 compartments housed a piece of organic chocolate from Green & Black, with proceeds going to support cocoa farmers in Belize.

The World’s Largest Advent Calendar

A building in Gloucester, England’s King’s Square was transformed into the world’s largest Advent calendar last December. The interactive calendar, which turned one of the city’s major eyesores into a giant, ribbon-tied Christmas present, was designed to promote local businesses during the busiest shopping season of the year. Beginning December 1, a new window was opened every day, revealing the logo of a different city business that offered specials until Christmas.

The Obama Advent Calendar

Here’s a piece of Obamania memorabilia you may have missed: the Obama Advent calendar. The $18 keepsake includes caricatures of John Edwards (“The Red-faced Reindeer”), Jesse Jackson (“The Nutcracker”), Bill Ayers (“Frosty the Weatherman”), and more. Naturally, Michelle and Barack Obama are behind the door on the 25th.

The Advent Calendar for Web Geeks
The self-proclaimed Advent calendar for web geeks has provided a daily dose of web design and development tips during the Advent season since 2005. Last year’s collection included an article about using cleaner code with CSS3 selectors and another titled “HTML5: Tool of Satan, or Yule of Santa?”

The LEGO Advent Calendar

For several years, LEGO has produced an Advent calendar set, featuring figures or constructible accessories behind every numbered door. LEGO produced two versions of its Advent calendar last year, a traditional LEGO City and a Pirates edition. Why not? The LEGO City set includes a naked, showering Santa. Really.

Hubble Space Telescope

For the past two years, the Big Picture photo blog has featured an Advent calendar of daily images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The spectacular photos are chosen by blog editor Alan Taylor.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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