advent calendar yule christmas

History of the Advent Calendar

In Culture by Skjalden

The Advent calendar is a Christmas tradition that is very European, in fact, the origin of the Advent calendar has its roots in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. This was a time when many of the customs we associate with the celebration of Christmas were invented.

More than 100 years later, the Advent calendar is still very popular. Many people around the world, from Christians to non-Christians, still go out and purchase an Advent calendar, for either themselves or their children to count down the days until Christmas.

The First Advent Calendar

One of the first examples of something that could be called an Advent calendar comes from a children’s book published in 1851 by Elise Averdieck in Germany. ”Every evening when the little girl Elisabeth goes to bed, her mother tells her a little bit about the origin of Christmas. Afterward, they sing a lot of Christmas carols together and hang a new picture about Christmas on the wallpaper, they do this until all of the 24 pictures hang on the wall, and then the children know that Christmas is here”

An advent calendar helped the children by counting down the days until Christmas Eve which is on the 24th of December at sundown. Before the advent calendars were invented families would use chalk marks on the doors and wipe one away every day to count down the days.

The first Advent calendars were actually not even called Advent calendars, but they were called Nicholas calendars, because they were distributed on December 6, which is on St. Nicholas’ day. On this day a guy dressed as St. Nicholas would hand out Nicholas calendars. However, the name would eventually change back to the Advent calendar.

When was the Advent Calendar Invented?

The first and oldest printed Advent calendar was published in 1902, and it is actually not even a calendar, but it was a clock. With 12 numbers on it, and a pointer that you could move to countdown the 12 days of Christmas. However, this is a debated topic, and the opinions about whether this should be called an advent calendar are split down the middle.

christmas day jul yule weihnachten calendar clock
Christmas clock was published in 1902, in Hamburg, Germany.

Nevertheless, it is a German named, Gerhard Lang (1881-1974) who has officially been credited for being the inventor of the first printed Advent calendar, and it all started when he was a little boy.

When Gerhard was a little boy, his mother gave him 24 cookies that were sewn onto the lid and put onto a piece of carton. He was allowed to eat one cookie every day thereby counting the days until Christmas Eve.

In 1903 when Gerhard was in his early 20s, he remembered this homemade Advent calendar by his mother, and it probably inspired him to make the first printed Advent calendar. The calendar was mass-produced by the company called Reichhold & Lang, a lithographic institute (in German: Lithographische Kunstanstalt) G.m.b.H, and it was called ”in the land of the Christ Child” (in German: Im Lande des Christkinds). The date when it was published used to be 1908, but it was later pushed back to 1903.

Im Lande des Christkinds weihnachts kalender advent calendar yule jul
Christmas calendar ” in the land of the Christ Child” published in 1903, Germany.

The first Advent calendar did not have any small doors on it that you could open, it was something that would be added to the Christmas calendar about a decade later. However, the calendar did have 24 numbers on it, which is the number of numbers required to call it an Advent calendar, and not a St Nikolaus calendar that only has 19 numbers on it.

The calendar had 24 short verses about Christmas and 24 colorful images that were drawn by the artist Richard Ernst Kepler. Every day from the 1st of December to the 24th a child would carefully cut out one of the images, glue it on top of the calendar, and thereby hide the short verses one by one. The verses were printed on each side of the calendar, so you could still read them on the back.

I think it is interesting that this Christmas calendar is called Weihnachts Kalender which literally means Christmas calendar or Christmas Eve’s calendar in German.

The First Advent Calendars with Doors

Around the year 1920, the same German company ”Reichhold & Lang” in Munich (German: München) came up with the idea to make Christmas calendars with small doors on them. The calendar was designed by the artist Dora Baum (1881-1949) and was given the name Christkindleins Haus (English: The house of the Christ child).

This Christmas calendar had only 19 double doors on it, starting from the 6th of December until the 24th of December, which means this calendar belongs among the Nikolaus calendars.

nikolaus calendar by dora baum published 1920 germany
St. Nikolaus calendar by Dora Baum, published in 1920, Germany.

During the 1st World War in Europe (1914-1918) the production of these calendars had pretty much stopped, and it was not until now, that the demand for them was beginning to rise again along with the German economy.

Different kinds of Advent calendars with various designs, and in all kinds of sizes and price ranges began to be sold each year in Germany during the 1920s. The Advent calendars slowly began to be something that the common man would purchase for his children.

Around the year 1926, the first Advent calendar with chocolate came to the market in Germany. It was again the innovative company Reichhold & Lang who had come up with the idea to purchase 20 different pieces of chocolate from the company Stollwerck, and put them into their Advent calendar for Christmas called ”The Christmas Rose”.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the first Advent calendars for blind children began to be produced in Germany, and the first version was a remake of the calendar in the Land of the Christ Child from 1903.

During the 1930s the demand for the Advent calendars increased rapidly throughout Germany along with their economic boom, which has often been described as Germany’s economic miracle. As Germany was the first country in the West started to recover from the great depression.

Advent calendar hannes petersen published 1930s leipzig germany
Advent calendar by Hannes Petersen, published in the 1930s, Leipzig, Germany.
Saint Nikolaus calendar published 1933 germany
St. Nikolaus calendar, published in 1933, Germany.

However, due to the 2nd World War (1939-1945), the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) put a ban on the production of illustrated calendars, except for the publisher Franz Eher Verlag which was controlled by the party. The name was also changed from the Advent calendar to the Pre-Christmas calendar, and the traditional Christian images were replaced with symbolism and ideological content from the party.

Advent calendar published 1940 Germany wwii
Advent calendar, published in 1940, Germany.

After the war, the calendars regained their previous name, and the knowledge of the advent calendars began to spread to more countries around the world.

Advent calendar rainbow slide munich germany yule
Advent calendar ”Rainbow slide” by Kurt Brandes, published in 1957, Munich, Germany.
Advent calendar dominik wunderlin 1966 munich germany
Advent calendar by Dominik Wunderlin, published in 1966, Munich, Germany.
Advent calendar 1970 germany
Advent calendar ”The Advent clock”, published in 1970, Germany.
Advent calendar forest published 1977 germany
Advent calendar ”The Advent Forest”, published in 1977, Germany.

The First Danish Advent Calendar

In Denmark, the Advent calendars did not become a thing before the beginning of the 1930s, when the first two Advent calendars were sold in the local stores. However, they are not called an Advent calendar in Denmark, but they are called a Yule calendar (In Danish: Julekalender).

The two Yule calendars had almost the same name, just without the hyphen, Børnenes Jule-Kalender, and Børnenes Julekalender (Children’s Yule Calendar). However, they were not identical, the first one was a tear-off block calendar with colored drawings and three short verses.

Yule calendar bornenes jule kalender aage germann hedvis colling 1930 denmark
Yule calendar by Aage Germann & Hedvis Colling, published in 1930, Denmark.

The text was written by the Danish author Aage Germann, and the pretty illustrations were drawn by Hedvis Colling. These two people were very well known in Denmark at the time, for their children’s literature in the 1920s.

The second Yule calendar is what we today would call a traditional Advent calendar with 24 numbers, and the calendar is a little unique because the tiny boxes are all in different shapes and sizes, and the images behind the numbers are based on the Danish ”Jul”, and not images from southern Germany, which was often seen on most Advent calendars outside of Germany (Christmas means Jul in Danish). The Advent calendar was drawn by the Danish illustrator, Ejnar Vindfeldt (1905-1953).

Yule calendar bornenes julekalender ejnar vindfeldt 1930 denmark
Yule calendar by Ejnar Vindfeldt, published in 1930, Denmark.

It was not everyone that could afford to purchase a Christmas calendar, and that lead to some people using their creativity to make one themselves. This Christmas calendar was handmade in Denmark in 1932, as a gift for a family member, and the text says Merry Christmas (in Danish: Glædelig Jul). The stars and the roof of the church are made from glossy paper, and inside the tiny little boxes, there are small images cut out from scrap pictures (In Danish: Glansbilleder), (In German: Glanzbilder).

Homemade yule calendar 1932 denmark
Yule calendar was made in 1932, in Denmark.
Yule calendar nissepige 1955 copenhagen denmark julekalender
Yule calendar ”Nissepige”, published in 1955, Copenhagen, Denmark.

The First Danish Advent Calendars with Presents

After the Second World War, Advent calendars with small gift-wrapped presents (in Danish: Pakkekalender), slowly began to become the norm in Denmark. An Advent calendar with presents would typically have 24 small gifts, and one big gift on the 24th of December. The presents could contain small packs of Legos or candy for the children.

Danish advent calendars gift wrapped presents pakkekalender yule
Danish advent calendar with gift-wrapped presents

Some adults also make an Advent calendar for their partner, for a male, this could, for instance, be 24 different beers. If you don’t want your partner to be drunk all December, then you could just give him beers on Sundays, and now that we are talking about Sundays. Some families only give Advent gifts, so instead of many small gifts, they get 4 big presents, one each Sunday on Advent.

Yule calendar ploufmann published 1960s denmark
Yule calendar by E.J. Ploufmann, published in the 1960s, Denmark.

In 1994 the Danish state-owned gambling company called ”Dansk Tips Tjeneste” began to sell Yule scratch cards (in Danish: Skrabe-Julekalender), where the grand prize was 1 million kroner. One lucky person could have an extra merry Christmas, and be able to buy bigger presents for their loved ones, or just take a long holiday from all the hassle.

Yule calendar dansk tips tjeneste 1994 denmark
Yule calendar by Dansk Tips Tjeneste, published in 1994, Denmark.

Today, we can find these Advent calendars all over the web, and companies in all genres from insurance to candy webshops use them to attract new customers.

Advent Calendars for Christmas

We all know that December is full of unhealthy treats, but the Children should not miss out. Christmas is, after all, a magical time for children. However, one way to cut back on treats is the Advent calendar, instead of buying them with candy, choose one with toys. I’ve listed a few examples of these Advent calendars below and boxes that many of my friends have purchased for their children, and they loved them. Click here