Happy December! It’s December 1st, which surely means it’s Advent. Except it isn’t.
To find out why, let’s open the door on the advent of Advent.
Thing is, Advent technically begins on Advent Sunday, the first of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. So that can be as early as November 27th or as late as December 3rd, as it is this year. We only think of Advent as kicking off on December 1st thanks to the mass-production of Advent calendars, like this one – the first of its kind…
Here are windows onto calendars and what came before them…
- THE PRE-CALENDAR… Advent was celebrated from at least the fifth century. By the late nineteenth century, Advent wreaths and candles (four candles, ‘andles for forks) were popular across Europe. To this day, many churches light one candle each Sunday through Advent, and some devote each to the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary. It’s cheerier than the previous four themes: sermons on death, judgment, heaven, and hell used to feature on the Sundays in Advent.
- CHALK ‘EM OFF… Meanwhile at home, before Advent calendars, Protestant German families marked a chalk line each day till Christmas Eve – a bit like caricatures of prison life, but happier.
- THE HOMEMADE CALENDAR… began life in the 1850s, each one personalised. One Frau Lang made calendars with sweets on string for her son Gerhard, who loved Advent, probably because he was allowed a sweet a day.
- ANOTHER DOOR OPENS… Gerhard grew up and mass-produced Advent calendars from 1908. Around the same time, newspapers offered them as free gifts – so Gerhard upped his game, or his calendars’ days were numbered. Which was kind of the point. Gerhard was the first to add cardboard doors, with a picture or Bible verse behind each.
- A NEW START… for Advent in the 1920s, as Gerhard decided that a December 1st start day would save redesigning the calendars each year. From then on, a standardised calendar saw the doors numbered from 1 to 24, and thus reusable year on year.
- THE COUNTDOWN STOPS… Rationing ceased production, but the calendars returned after World War II to great acclaim.
- I LIKE IKE, IKE LIKES ADVENT CALENDARS… Just as a pic of Victoria and Albert brought the Christmas tree to the United States, President Eisenhower helped spread the Advent calendar in a photo of him giving them to his grandchildren.
- ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS MY TWO FRONT TEETH… Chocolate joined the calendars in the 1950s. Consumers had a choice between chocolate and Bible verses – guess which sold better?
…Yes, once again, a burgeoning Christian custom was no match for festive gorging. And all because of those ridiculous commercial pictures in magazines and newspapers, I mean it’s just typical…
Sorry, just an ad vent.