From Protestants To Porsches: The Origins Of The Advent Calendar

Rebecca Barton

If you are anything like me, December is one of the best times of the year. Bright Christmas lights deck the streets and shops, and Mariah Carey is being played non-stop. It is fair to say that this month brings much-needed festive cheer to conclude what has often been a tough year, and nothing says Christmas like a chocolate advent calendar. 

Miserable freezing mornings are somewhat redeemed by that small piece of chocolate, and every day it is a little treat to look forward to. We take it for granted, but where did it all come from?

The English translation from Latin of ‘advent’ is ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, and for centuries Christians have been marking the advent of Christmas day in a variety of ways. German Protestants as early as the 19th century began lighting candles or drawing small chalk doors each day of the advent to mark the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. 

These doors or walls being created soon evolved into images being drawn behind them, and thereafter the first printed advent calendar was produced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. 

Lang took inspiration from his own childhood, when he had received a decorated cardboard calendar from his mother with sweets attached on the inside. Reichhold & Lang grew to be Lang’s company that was responsible for the dissemination of colourful calendars in the first half of the 20th century.

It was not until 1958 that the first chocolate advent calendar arrived in the world

However, with the Second World War came the decline in production of the advent calendar due to the rationing of cardboard. It was actually in Germany, the country in which Reichhold & Lang were based, that advent calendars were first banned as a result of the religious sentiment during the war years, being replaced by Nazi propaganda for children.

It was not until years after that advent calendars returned and were able to be mass manufactured once again. The spirit had always remained, and it was not until 1958 that the first chocolate advent calendar arrived in the world.

Surprisingly, it was only eventually in 1971 that Cadbury’s launched an advent calendar in the United Kingdom, featuring the familiar chocolates we see today behind the windows. It took them long enough! 

Interestingly, Cadbury’s never intended for their calendars to be an annual release – 1993 was the year that they finally became a permanent product for the brand. In the 62 years since the appearance of the original sweet-filled calendars, we have advanced a long way.

Of course, now we are able to buy advent calendars of any type, ranging from beauty to Lego – even to cheese! In 2010, Porsche Design produced an advent calendar worth 1 million US dollars which included a watch, a pair of sunglasses, and just a casual custom-built kitchen. 

Sometimes it is easy to forget the origins of certain traditions, and in such a modern world I for certain do not stop to think about who created the idea to mark each day of advent with chocolate whilst I am stuffing my face with such at 8 in the morning. 

However, we have centuries of practice and Lang’s creativity to thank for this custom that as a nation we have come to love. Creations such as virtual advent calendars allow you to create and participate with your loved ones, which in a year like 2020 is as important as ever as a way of staying connected at a time which can already be hard for those alone. 

Whilst fun, what is not important is the mini bottle of gin you may be opening on the 12th day of December or the sample of a new moisturiser you receive, but instead the sentiment, creativity, and history behind the advent calendar.

Rebecca Barton

Featured image courtesy of  Elena Mozhvilo via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

In-article image courtesy of @qualitystreetuki via Instagram. No changes made to this image. 

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