One of my favorite holiday traditions growing up was that of the Advent Calendar. Starting on the first of December, it was always exciting to get home from school and check the little pocket of our homemade advent calendar. It was a felt tree with little pockets, and in each pocket was a little envelope in the shape of an ornament for the tree. Sometimes there was chocolate, or another small treat in the pockets. Other times, I found a trinket or bauble. Everytime, the anticipation of that tiny gift was exciting. We looked forward to it every year.
What is Advent and why Calendars?
So, of course, the first question for those who are unfamiliar, would be “What is Advent?” Advent is the season on the liturgical calendar that leads up to Christmas Day. It is the anticipation of Christmas and is celebrated by Christians all over the world. Advent typically starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, closest to St. Andrew’s Day (November 30th). This year that happens to be on December 1st, but it can be anywhere from November 27th – December 3rd.
Advent Calendars came into being in the early 19th Century in Germany. German families would make chalk marks on the door to count down the days until Christmas, erasing a mark at the end of each day. Another tradition that developed was to light a candle on the Christmas tree each day to mark the days until Christmas. As Christmas got closer the tree was illuminated more and more.
The first known wooden Advent Calendar was made in Germany in 1851 and sometime after that was the first mass-production of them. During World War II, their production was halted due to an extreme cardboard shortage. The first time chocolate was used was in America in 1958.
The popularity of Advent Calendars didn’t really happen within the United States until the early 1950s.
Following World War II, once cardboard was no longer rationed, Advent Calendars made their way into the U.S. G.I.s still stationed in Europe started sending them home. Slowly they caught on. But it was in 1953, after Newsweek published an article about President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his family celebrating the Christmas Holidays, that the popularity grew. One of the photos was a picture of his grandchildren with an Advent Calendar. Soon after, Advent Calendars became popular in American and are now a huge Black Friday item.
There are many different types of Advent Calendars today.
In the first advent calendars the little paper doors revealed images of the Christmas Story and Christmas things. This eventually evolved by the 20th century to tokens, bible verses and by the 1950s, candy. The design and shapes of Advent Calendars now are as varied as the many cultures who celebrate with them. In Germany, for instance, they sometimes attach small bags to holiday wreaths. You can find a host of ideas on the internet on how to make your own Advent Calendars and yes, your brain may explode at the many ideas. Mine sure did.
When my son was born, I knew I wanted to share this tradition with him as he grew up.
As I mentioned before, I was nearly overwhelmed by the options. I knew that I didn’t want our Advent Calendar to include candy. By age 2 he was already a crazy person when it came to candy. When I was little, it was the other things that I found more fun, anyway. My family is a blend of faiths and traditions (specifically Christian and Jewish), so I wanted to make sure that what we did didn’t diminish the other traditions in our house. I also didn’t want to have to come up with 24 new ideas each year.
The answer came by accident when my son was 2 ½ and we were having trouble getting him to pay attention to books. We as a family are huge readers and of course we hope that our child will be, too. The year before he had gotten over 30 books for the holidays (and his birthday, which is a week before Christmas). What if we make his Advent all about books?
The idea was born and we contacted all of his grandparents, aunts and uncles who usually gave him books and told them our idea. So, now, each year I put together an Amazon wish list for him of books he likes, wants or we think he will enjoy and send that list out to everyone. We nudge and prod so that we get the books in time for Advent and then on November 30th I start wrapping them.
Our Book Advent Calendar became a wonderful tradition that he now looks forward to every year.
As a family, we sit down and read the books each night after opening them (or at least start reading them, if they are longer). The books range from holiday books (Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule) to books of poetry for kids (Shel Silverstein), books about superheroes, and more! The options are infinite.
Inside each book, we put the year and the # (day) the book was opened. Next year, I think we’re going to make an advent tree to hang so the numbers are random. I even keep a list of the books and who gave each of them to my son and put that list in a book (for us a photo book of each year). It’s a wonderful way for him to know when he is older, who all participated and who some of his favorite books were from. What do you do for your Advent Calendar?
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and if you enjoy the wonders of Advent Calendars, may yours bring delight and help count down the days until Christmas.
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