A Brief History of Advent Calendars

iStock
iStock

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 a few non-traditional designs of this 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 4th century. Originally, the period was a time for converts to Christianity to prepare for baptism, but it's 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.

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.

THE $50,000 ADVENT CALENDAR

One of the most expensive Advent calendars to ever hit the shelves was a 4-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

According to Guinness World Records, the world's largest advent calendar was built in 2007 at the St. Pancras train station in London. The massive calendar, which measured 232 feet and 11 inches tall, and 75 feet and 5 inches wide, celebrated the reopening of the station following a renovation.

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 designing for mobile performance and another titled “Is Your Website Accidentally Sexist?”

THE LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR

For several years, LEGO has produced an Advent calendar set, featuring figures or constructible accessories behind every numbered door. This year, the company is offering a City version and a Star Wars Advent calendar.

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

Since 2008, the Big Picture photo blog has featured an Advent calendar of daily images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The spectacular photos are chosen by Alan Taylor, The Atlantic's senior photo editor.

Celebrate the Holidays With a Harry Potter Sock Advent Calendar From Target

Target
Target

Harry Potter Advent calendars are becoming a new Christmas tradition among wizards and witches at heart. For the 2019 holiday season, LEGO is launching an Advent calendar set of Harry Potter minifigures, and Funko is releasing its own calendar themed around the Yule Ball. Now, Bustle reports that Target is getting in on the action with four new Advent calendars packed with Harry Potter-themed socks.

No matter what type of Harry Potter fan you are, there's a batch of socks for you in Target's line-up. If you're someone who gets assigned a different house every time you take a sorting hat quiz, go with the first Advent calendar. It includes socks in men sizes 6 through 12 emblazoned with the crests and colors of all four Hogwarts houses.

The other three packs feature women's socks with a somewhat random assortment of designs. You'll find footwear branded with iconic Harry Potter imagery, like Hedwig the owl, the golden Snitch, and the Hogwarts Express. Other socks bear quotes from the books and films, like "Mischief Managed" from the Marauder's Map and Hagrid's famous one-liner, "You're a wizard, Harry."

Every Harry Potter Advent calendar from Target comes with 15 pairs of socks, working out to just $1 a pair. If you'd like to start planning the holiday season early this year, you can order them today from Target.com. And to make the holidays even more magical, don't miss out on this Hogwarts castle tree topper that plays "Hedwig's Theme."

Harry Potter socks from Target.
Target

Harry Potter sock advent calendar.
Target

Harry Potter socks from Target.
Target

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy.

When Should You Book Your Thanksgiving and Christmas Flights? Right Now!

zoff-photo/iStock via Getty Images
zoff-photo/iStock via Getty Images

For many people, paying for distressingly expensive airline tickets is just part of life when it comes to traveling for the holidays. And, while you might think you’ll get the best deal by checking fluctuating prices obsessively from today until the day before Thanksgiving, you’re probably better off booking your flights right now.

“Once you get within three or four months, the chance of something cheap popping up for Christmas or New Year’s is not very likely,” Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told Travel + Leisure. “Certainly don’t wait until the last week or two because prices are going to be way higher.”

This is partially because airlines devise algorithms based on last year’s ticket sales and trends, and they know many travelers will fork over some serious cash rather than decide not to go home for the holidays—and there are always plenty of people who wait until the last minute to book their flights. In fact, so you know for next year, the absolute best time to book holiday travel is actually during the summer.

Scott Mayerowitz, the executive editorial director of The Points Guy, admits that it is possible to save a little money if you’re extremely diligent about following flight prices leading up to the holidays, but he thinks your mental health is worth much more than the pittance you might (or might not) save. “The heartache and headache of constantly searching for the best airfare can drive you insane,” he told Travel + Leisure. “Your time and sanity [are] worth something.”

If you’re not willing to throw in the towel just yet, you could always track the prices for a little while, and give yourself a hard deadline for booking your flights in a few weeks. Mayerowitz says buying your seats at least six weeks in advance—or earlier—is a good rule of thumb for holiday travel. That still leaves you several weeks to periodically scroll through flight listings and get a feel for what seems like a reasonable price.

To minimize your travel anxiety even further, try to fly one one of these dates, and check out eight other tips for a stress-free holiday trip.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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