Door Ajar: Counting Down to Christmas with the Advent Calendar


Thanksgiving is upon us and everyone knows what that means—it’s time for Christmas! Radio stations have begun their 24-hour Christmas music programming, the yule log has been fired up and people already in the holiday spirit are dreaming about what they might find under the tree. Having a calendar not only helps keep track of the quickly passing days, but also builds excitement for the big day. Of course, some calendars are more exciting than others. Case in point, the advent calendar. This magical calendar deems every day in December gift-worthy with a tasty, bite-size treat. Read on for a brief history of the holiday tradition that gives people presents for counting down the days until they get to open bigger presents. Happy holidays!

The Advent of Advent
The word advent comes from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “coming” or “arriving,” which is appropriate, given that Advent is a preparatory season for the holly-jolliest of holidays, Christmas. Early Advent seasons weren’t as celebratory as they are now. Thankfully, themes have evolved and Advent now has a more joyful vibe to it, incorporating more decorative traditions. Advent wreaths, which include four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent, symbolizing things like hope, life and peace. Jesse trees are decorated gradually throughout Advent. And the most delicious Advent calendar.

Let There Be Sweets on Earth
Like many things that contain yummy food, the Advent calendar’s beginnings trace back to Germany. Some Germans would count the days to Christmas by marking a chalk line on their front door for each day in December until Christmas. Someone in Hamburg in 1839 ran out of chalk and got the idea to hang an Advent calendar in the house and a tradition was born. Hamburgers aside, there is still contention as to when the first printed calendar was made. Most attribute it to Gerhard Lang. As a child, Lang’s mother, who clearly knew that sweets were the way to any child’s heart, had made a board with 24 candies stuck to it and let him take one down each morning during Advent. Inspired by this, Lang originally created a calendar featuring 24 pictures that attached to a piece of cardboard. He eventually modified it to include the doors that are a part of most Advent calendars today.

Although the calendars are named for the Advent season, they don’t typically follow the actual period—accuracy, schmaccuracy—and instead begin on December 1, marking the 24 days before Christmas. Anticipation builds with each day* as one tiny door after another is opened to reveal a picture, a quote or, most desirable, a candy or chocolate.*Given the strong desire for chocolate over quotes, cheating and opening multiple doors at once is not uncommon and, quite honestly, expected.

Count Down, Eat Up
There are many variations to the Advent calendar, including living calendars, which may sound like they contain humans covered in chocolate. They don’t. They open to reveal a music performance or some form of live entertainment. There are really expensive calendars—one of the most expensive was a $50,000 four-foot, carved-wood Christmas tree that had compartments containing organic chocolate (for charity, folks). There are themed calendars—cartoon characters, superheroes or movies take people through the days of Christmas. And then there are calendars that put the adventure back in Advent, like the Jerky Advent Calendar.

Filled with pieces of five exotic meats—alligator, buffalo, venison, elk and wild boar—and offering adventure facts for each day, the Jerky Advent calendar is a festive feast of seasoned meat and one of the most unique holiday gifts for men. As with other Advent calendars, likelihood of the recipient eating ahead is high—counting down isn’t nearly as joyous as chowing down, and in this season of celebration, who can say no to that?