France | Life + Culture

All About Advent Calendars

You don’t need an Advent calendar to remind you of the joyous season, but opening the miniature doors and revealing tiny surprises sure sounds like an excellent way to lead up to Christmas Eve! Advent calendars come in many shapes and sizes. They can be tailor-made for different people, with examples ranging from calendars designed for stationary lovers to travelers and bookworms. And of course, if you’re unsure which route to go, there’s always the classic chocolate option.

advent calendar

What are Advent Calendars?

Advent calendars have been an ever-present tradition of Christmas and find their roots in the religious customs of the Christian church. The idea of Advent calendars was invented by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries to mark the days of Advent.

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What is Advent?

In France, Advent is the time to wait and prepare for the Christmas festivities. The word Advent comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’. Advent has been celebrated since the 4th century and was originally a time for Christian converts to prepare for baptism. It starts four Sundays before Christmas and is the period of hope for the general masses. It signifies the victory of the light of Christmas over darkness and makes the sad, dull winter days brighter, especially for small children.

hanging advent calendar

What is the meaning of Advent Calendars?

Advent calendars are a fantastic way for kids to countdown to Christmas Eve! The calendars don’t follow the Advent period; instead, they begin on December 1st and mark the 24 days until Christmas. This tradition dates back to the mid-19th century when Protestant monks in Germany counted the days leading up to Christmas by lighting candles or using chalk marks on doors.

The modern Advent calendar usually consists of 24 small paper doors behind which is either a gift or a piece of chocolate, or even a Bible verse. The calendar itself can come in different shapes and forms, the most popular one being a Christmas tree or a rectangular box depicting a medieval Christmas scene.

advent calendar in a basket

What are the most common Advent symbols?

Traditional Advent calendars have specific colors and symbols that have a certain meaning. For example, purple represents royalty, blue conveys hope, and ivies and garlands in green celebrate new growth. This time period also consists of an Advent wreath made up of pine and fir branches, knotted with red bows and pine cones.

The wreath contains four candles, one for each Sunday. The round shape of the wreath symbolizes the return of the sun while the green represents rebirth and life. The Advent wreath usually is placed on a table, but can also be hung on the doors or windows without the candles as Christmas decorations.

female hand reaching for advent calendar

How did Advent Calendars become popular in America?

Printed Advent calendars first appeared in the 20th century. Gerhard Lang created a printed version based on his childhood memory where his mother would attach 24 sweets to cardboard squares to countdown to Christmas. In 1908, he created the Advent calendar with his own colored drawings. It was later modified to include doors to the calendar, making it an immediate hit with the masses.

As these calendars were produced in Germany, World War II brought a halt to their production. Richard Sellmer started producing the calendars once more after the war and soon became its leading producer. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US president in the 1950s, was photographed opening an Advent calendar with his grandchildren, which was printed in many newspapers. Since then, he has been credited to have popularized Advent calendars in the United States.

How does an Advent Calendar work?

Advent calendars are a tradition in most French households and help excited children countdown to Christmas. From December 1st, the kids open one door a day until Christmas Eve. Each door hides behind it a surprise that feeds the joy of the festive season but also builds the excitement for the final Christmas gift.

advent calendar chocolate

What to put in an Advent Calendar?

The traditional Advent calendars depict angels and biblical figures but there are tons of modern ones out there that cater to different likes and dislikes. The most popular is the chocolate Advent calendar where each door reveals a new type of chocolate, but if you want something unique, you can always fall back on teddy bears or a topical pop-culture theme.

Some like to take it even further by creating customized Advent calendars that cater to specific needs or likes such as a calendar designed for wine or coffee lovers, calendars for movie buffs, calendars with perfumes or beauty products, or even calendars with limited action figures of a popular series. There are Advent calendars for pets as well, so they can enjoy a new treat or a toy along with their owners every day!

Over the years, there have been some awe-inspiring Advent calendars on the shelves, from Tiffany to Porsche and everything in between. The shapes have also evolved over the years, and are no more restricted to a box or a Christmas tree. The largest Advent calendar was built by St Pancras station in London in 2007 to announce its opening after the renovation.

My Favorite Advent Calendars

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collage of advent calendarsAdvent Calendarcollage of advent calendars

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14 Comments

  1. We do a Christmas countdown. I don’t really like using the term Advent as we aren’t religious, but it’s still fun to countdown to Christmas!

  2. It’s crazy how close Christmas is and that we should begin planning our activities. I haven’t done an advent calendar in the past. But we have done elf on the shelf.

  3. I just love, love, LOOOOVE advent calendars, and this piece on them! They are so fun and festive and make holidays that are already exciting even MORE exciting!

  4. I have always loved doing a Christmas Countdown! I personally love the advent calendar. My children do too.

  5. An advent calendar is part of our Christmas traditions. I always just buy one at the store. Can’t wait to shop for one soon!

  6. This is our tradition every year we have an advent calendar of all our favorite snacks. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  7. My kids regularly receive the ones bought from stores from grandmas and pedagogues…only of chocolates. Haven’t done this by ourselves…