From its humble origins, the Advent calendar has become one of the Christmas season's most beloved traditions. Here's how that came about...
Today, Advent calendars are among the most beloved of holiday traditions, but how much do you know about their origins? Here are 10 facts that will fill in the gaps.
1. In the 19th century, many devout Lutherans in Germany observed Advent by lighting a candle or making a chalk mark on a wall or door each day from December 1-24. Soon, that practice led to the hanging of a different religious image each day during Advent.
2. The year 1851 saw the creation of the first wooden Advent calendar that was crafted by an artisan's hand.
3. In the early 20th century, a Hamburg bookshop published what it called a Christmas Clock. It was, for all intents and purposes, the first printed Advent calendar.
4. In 1904, a Stuttgart newspaper called Neues Tagblatt included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers.
5. In 1908, a printer named Gerhard Lang produced a calendar that comprised small pictures that could be affixed to a cardboard calendar, one per day, throughout December
6. Lang is also credited with the 1920s innovation of a calendar with small doors behind which could be found small pictures or Bible verses.
7. During World War II, the Nazis banned calendars with pictures, which could have ended Advent calendars altogether, but following the war, a printer named Richard Sellmar convinced the U.S. officials who were governing Stuttgart at the time to allow him, despite a paper shortage, to print them again. His company, Sellmar-Verlag, continues to produce the calendars to this day. It's the only publishing house in Germany devoted exclusively to the production of Advent calendars.
8. The popularity of Advent calendars took off in the United States when Newsweek magazine published a photograph of then-President Dwight Eisenhower's three grandchildren posing with one. The fact that small pieces of chocolate were by then included in many calendars just might have played a role, too.
9. The town of Gengenbach in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, boasts what it calls the Das weltgrößte Adventskalenderhaus (the World's Largest Advent Calendar House). Every December for more than 15 years, the city's town hall is transformed into a two-story Advent calendar, with the structure's 24 windows (two rows of 11, plus two more in the roof) each decorated with a Christmas tableau, revealed one per day throughout the season.
10. In 2007, a trio of German students, members of the University of Regensburg’s micro- and nanostructures group, created what surely remains the world's smallest Advent calendar, a nano-scale etching that includes depictions of holiday imagery, including Santa Claus, a bell, a snowman and a snow-covered church. How small is it? It would take five million of the calendars to fill the surface area of a postage stamp.