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The Advent calendar - a German tradition

This blogpost is written by one of our German volunteers


One German tradition we wanted to bring with us from Germany to India, was that of the Advent calendar. An Advent calendar is an ever present part of the German Christmas season. The modern version of the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century. Its' function is to count down the days in anticipation of Christmas.


Advent calendar come in many forms and sizes, from a simple paper calendar with flaps covering each of the days, to fabric pockets on a background scene, to painted wooden boxes for small items. Many traditional ones take the form of a large rectangular card with “doors”, one for each day of December up to Christmas Eve. The doors are opened every day, beginning December 1st. Often the doors are distributed across the calendar in no particular order, so that one has to search for the next door every day. The calendar doors open to reveal an image, a poem, a small gift or a piece of chocolate.

The tradition began when German families started counting the days until Christmas by tallying chalk marks on a door or wall, lighting a candle or hanging a religious picture for each day up to Christmas Eve. Families began to make homemade Advent calendar to accompany their countdown and a few companies and newspapers had produced simple print calendars by the early 1900s.


The popularity of Advent calendars spread with the help of a German printer named Gerhard Lang. He designed cardboard Advent calendars and in the 1920’s came up with the idea of cutting out little doors that could be opened each day, hiding a devotional picture of Bible verse. With gaining popularity in America in the 1950s, many calendar began including simple gifts, such as chocolate or a small toy. The popularity of Advent calendars has continued to grow since then, even crossing over into non-religious contexts.


However Advents calendars are also more than a countdown to Christmas. Advent calendars mark the days of Advent and serves as a time of spiritual reflection and preparation. Advent is a season of waiting, calling to mind the longing and anticipation of God’s people, who, for centuries, awaited the coming Messiah.


As we were approaching Christmas time, Zoe, Clara and myself came up with with idea to create an advent calendar for the Hope House children. We currently have 20 children and 4 people of staff at the children's home of the hope house, so that fit perfectly for each having one little gift on one day leading up to Christmas eve. Since some of the children might be reading this article, I would not want to give away any surprise by telling you what we put inside the calendar. However I can tell you that each is a little gift that will hopefully bring a smile on their faces.


Whether it’s a poem per day or a cardboard display filled with chocolate treats, the Advent calendar itself is an object lesson in building anticipation and can be a fun reason to gather around and create a context for spiritual conversations. We are excited to bring this tradition to the Hope House and to see the children get excited about it as well.

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