Where did Advent calendars come from?
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider why we have Advent calendars and how they have developed.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to gather together various types of Advent calendar: a card one with a Nativity scene on it, a chocolate one, a fabric version with pockets and so on. Alternatively, you could show images of different ones.
- You will need to choose a favourite Christmas song or carol to sing at the end of the assembly.
- Ask the children what they enjoy most about the lead-up to Christmas.
Listen to a range of responses.
- Depending on when the assembly is taking place, ask the children if any of them have already been opening Advent calendars or have them ready to open.
Ask the children what their Advent calendars are like.
- Show your collection of various types of Advent calendar.
Ask the children what the calendars are used for. Ask if any of them know how and when Advent calendars were first made.
- The idea of counting down the days to Christmas came from a tradition in Germany in the early nineteenth century. Starting on 1 December, Christian people began to put chalk marks on the doors of their houses. They would continue to put a mark on the door each day until it was Christmas Day. The idea was that each time someone entered the house, they would be reminded that God sent Jesus into the world at Christmas.
- As time went on, some families began to light a candle each day, starting on 1 December, while other families began to put a tiny religious picture on the wall each day.
Later, families would place a candle on the tree each day, starting on 1 December – sometimes, these candles would be lit daily; sometimes, they would simply be placed on the tree, ready for all of them to be lit on Christmas Eve. This was to remind people that Jesus, the light of the world, was born on Christmas Day.
- A man called Gerhard Lang is usually credited with the design of the modern-day Advent calendar. He released his first design in 1908, although it was a little different from calendars that we see today. Lang’s first calendar involved affixing little coloured pictures to a piece of cardboard every day in December.
Lang’s later versions were made of two layers of card where, as now, the top layer had 24 small doors cut into it so that a different door could be opened every day. The calendars had a mixture of religious and non-religious pictures on them. Other calendars were entirely religious, including one that had Bible verses behind each door rather than a picture.
- Advent calendars disappeared during the Second World War, but a man called Richard Sellmer reintroduced them after the war ended. The calendars quickly became popular. At this point, most Advent calendars were made of card (show the card Advent calendar), and most of them had a picture of a stable scene on them to remind people of the story of Jesus’ birth.
- Over the years, Advent candles also became popular. A small part of the candle is burnt down each day, starting on 1 December.
- In more recent years, there has been a massive boom in chocolate Advent calendars (show the chocolate Advent calendar). Now a huge variety of Advent calendars are available – ask the children to describe any different ones that they have seen.
- Many people in this country have Advent calendars at Christmas. In the Christian year, the time of Advent is when we get ourselves ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. When we open our calendars, it is a reminder that Jesus came and changed the world.
Time for reflection
Let’s pause for a moment to think about the arrival of Christmas.
Pause to allow time for thought.
- What are you looking forward to the most?
- Did you open a door in an Advent calendar this morning?
Think for a moment about why Advent calendars were first developed – to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Thank you for Christmastime.
Thank you for all the fun and excitement.
Please help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas and have a good time with all our families and friends.
A Christmas song appropriate to the school.