If today’s Advent calendar rhymes with chocolate for many, this was not always the case. It is originally a Christian tradition. In the 19th century in Germany, it was customary in certain Protestant families to give pious images to children every day of Advent. That is to say, small cards on which Jesus, Mary and Joseph or angels appear, and on which short extracts from the Gospel are sometimes written. Sometimes accompanied by a small gingerbread, these gifts were used to keep the children waiting in joy until Christmas Eve.
A tradition born in Germany
In 1908, in Munich, the printer Gerhard Lang took over this informal tradition by marketing the first Advent calendar. It offers a printed model where children are invited to cut out and paste a series of images on the twenty-four drawn squares of cardboard. Son of a pastor, he designed the object by drawing on his memories. As a child, his mother made him a handmade calendar with cardboard doors and candy inside.
It was not until 1920 that doors and small relief boxes appeared commercially. The Advent calendar was a great success, but almost disappeared during the Second World War. Fortunately, it would be popularized after the armistice by another German printer named Richard Sellmer. The latter exports his creation to the United States. He innovates by offering a model that hangs on the wall and has a snowy village printed on it. Behind the numbered doors and windows hide warm scenes of life. Even President Dwight D. Eisenhower got one for Christmas 1946! Note to those who are curious, it is still sold.
The rise of the chocolate Advent calendar
The Advent calendar conquered French homes later. In 1980, when the chocolate industry was flourishing, the object became popular in the country by containing sweets behind its small windows. If the calendar tends to lose its spiritual character, it is used as much by Christians as by non-believers.
Accompanying children towards Christmas
Although the form and content vary, the meaning of the Advent calendar remains the same. Opening a box in their calendar every morning is a repeated gesture that allows the child to become aware of the passing of time and to move towards Christmas. Each box represents a step on the path that leads us to Christmas. During Advent, everyone is called to watch and prepare to welcome into their home – through the nativity scene – and into their hearts, the arrival of little Jesus.