written on 30/11/2020
by Heidrun Strobl

Der Adventskalender - a must have in Germany

Every year the advent calendar helps us to make the wait until Heilig Abend, Christmas Eve, bearable. What do we actually know about its origin in the German-speaking countries of the 19th century?

At that time the Catholic church celebrated advent every day with prayers. In Protestant families, Christmas preparations took place at home. They entailed reading the Bible, praying and singing together daily.

Then, as now, it was difficult for the children to wait for Christmas Eve. Time was an abstract phenomenon for them as it still is today. Around 1840, parents started to think of how to make the wait more bearable for their children.

It was mostly Protestant families that began hanging 24 pictures with pre-Christmas motifs on a wall or in a window. Other parents drew 24 chalk lines on cupboard doors or lintels and the children were allowed to wipe one off every day. 

Catholic parishes it was customary to put a single straw into the crib daily and so prepare the bed for Baby Jesus. The idea of the advent calendar was born and developed from that moment on.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the so-called ‘Christmas clock’ with 12 or 24 subdivisions was devised. Each day the hand of the clock was moved one day further. The subdivisions were illustrated with song texts and Bible verses.

The first printed Christmas clock was published in 1902 in Hamburg by the Evangelical bookstore Truempler and sold for 50 Pfennig.

In 1904 the Weihnachtskalender named ‘im Lande des Christkinds‘ appeared as a supplement of the ‘Stuttgarter Nachrichten’(newspaper) following an idea by Gerhard Lang: 24 pictures to cut out and stick on cardboard with self-written verses.  

Lang had taken up this idea from his mother who had made for him such a calendar for the first time when he was a child. 

From 1908 onwards, Lang published numerous diverse advent calendars in his own publishing house, including one in Braille. His inventiveness was unstoppable.

He developed the ‘Christkindleinshaus’ to fill, the ‘Adventshaeuschen’  ‘Adventsbaeume’ to decorate with angels, tear-off calendars and the one we love so much today: the calendar with the 24 doors to open.

Other publishers took on the idea and in 1930 the advent calendar was widely spread in Germany

With the outbreak of the Second World War, paper was scarce and the printing of calendars was discontinued as it was unimportant for the war. In 1941 the church press was also banned.

As a substitute, the NSDAP produced a little booklet called ‘Vorweihnacht ’with stories, songs and colouring templates. This little booklet  could have taken the advent calendar in a different direction.

But the advent calendar bounced back and reappeared for the first Christmas after the war ended. 

Paper reserves were released, old motifs from the pre-war years were used again. Predominantly tear-off calendars were produced because this meant that the paper was reusable.

Advent calendars were also printed in the GDR but over the years became clearly distinct from those in the West. Production numbers also decreased over time.

Today, Germany produces about 80 million advent calendars yearly, of which 50 million remain in Germany. The choice is overwhelming but the most popular one is the one filled with chocolate (sold for the first time in 1958).

Several publishers in Germany specialise in advent calendars. One main focus is to keep the old traditional motifs alive.

Some cities transform into advent calendars during the pre-Christmas season.

The former pack house in Tönnig, in north Friesland, becomes a 78 meters long oversized advent calendar.

In Leipzig you can find the world’s largest free-standing calendar with 2 by 3 meter doors.

In Augsburg the town hall itself becomes an advent calendar.

The advent calendar has many faces, but its mission is still the same: to make the advent season special

Enjoy opening the ‘Türchen am Adventskalender’!