Advent Traditions

Advent is a Christian festival celebrating the approach of Christmas.  The word advent is taken from the Latin and means “coming” or “arrival”.

For Christians, advent begins on the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day (30th November).  A candle, sometimes incorporated into a decorative wreath, is usually lit in church on each of the four Sundays during advent; the fifth and final candle being lit on Christmas Day itself.

In the secular world however, advent is usually held to begin on 1st December, when children and adults enjoy beginning to count down the days to Christmas with an advent calendar or advent candle.

The custom of marking off the days until 25th December originated in Germany several centuries ago, when Lutherans started to chalk a daily tally on their doors.  This evolved into the lighting of candles or the hanging of different religious pictures on the wall each day.

The first advent calendars as such are thought to have been made by hand in Germany during the mid-19th Century, but it was not until the early years of the 20th Century that they began to be printed commercially.  A few years later, an advent calendar with little doors to open was invented by an Austrian printer called Gerhard Lang. 

The printing of advent calendars in Germany and Austria largely disappeared during the Second World War owing, amongst other reasons, to the shortage of raw materials.  However, a German company called Richard Sellmer Verlag resurrected production in 1946 with a range of both religious and seasonal designs, and still sells many thousands of advent calendars today, including a good number amongst the selection on this website.

The advent tradition has continued to develop ever since, and many popular (but not so healthy!) designs now have a small chocolate behind each door.  Other advent calendars, following Nordic custom, are re-usable and a little treat or gift for each day can be placed into the 24 drawers or pockets.  It is also possible to find candles specially calibrated with 24 sections, with the idea of burning down one section each day until Christmas.