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Getting Ready for Christmas

The history of Advent calendars

by Rebecca Parkinson

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider why we have Advent calendars and how the tradition has developed over time.

Preparation and materials


  1. Ask the students whether they are looking forward to Christmas.

    Tell the students that you are really looking forward to Christmas and that one of your favourite things in the run-up to Christmas is opening your Advent calendar each morning (this may or may not be the truth!).

  2. Explain that you understand that some of the students are probably too cool to admit that they have an Advent calendar at home. However, your guess is that many of them still have them and have eaten the chocolate before they came to school.

    You may wish to ask for a show of hands as to who has an Advent calendar at home.

  3. Point out that there are various types of Advent calendar.

    Show the examples or images of a selection of Advent calendars.

  4. The idea of counting down the days to Christmas dates back to the early nineteenth century, when there was a tradition in Germany for Christians to put chalk marks on the doors of their houses, starting on 1 December and continuing to add a mark every day until Christmas Day.

    The idea was that each time people 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. Other families began to put a tiny religious picture on the wall each day.

    As the years passed, families began to place candles on a tree each day starting on 1 December. Sometimes, these candles would be lit daily, but sometimes, they were simply placed on the tree, ready to be lit in one go on Christmas Eve. This was to remind people that Jesus - the light of the world - was born on Christmas Day.

  5. A man called Gerhard Lang is usually credited with the design of the modern-day Advent calendar. In 1908, Lang made 30 designs of his Advent calendar. The calendars were made of two layers of card, with the top layer having 24 small doors cut into it so that a door could be opened daily, and they had a mixture of religious and non-religious pictures on them. At around the same time, a religious calendar was made, which had Bible verses rather than a picture behind each door.

  6. During the Second World War, Advent calendars all but disappeared, but a man called Richard Sellmer from Stuttgart in Germany reintroduced them after the war and they quickly became popular. At this point, most Advent calendars were made of card.

    Show the card Advent calendar or the image of it.

    Also, most of them depicted a nativity stable scene to remind people of the story of Jesus’ birth.

  7. In more recent years, chocolate Advent calendars have become increasingly popular.

    Show the chocolate Advent calendar or the image of it.

    Now a huge variety of Advent calendars are available.

  8. Over the years, Advent candles have also become popular. These special candles are marked with the days of December up to Christmas Eve. Every day from 1 December, the candle is lit and burned down to the mark for that day.

    Show the Advent candle or the image of it.

  9. Many people in this country have Advent calendars at Christmas. In the Christian Church, Advent is the time when we get ourselves ready to remember the birth of Jesus. When we open a door on our calendar each day, it is easy to forget that it is meant to be a reminder that Jesus came and changed the world.

Time for reflection

Ask the students to pause for a moment and think about the arrival of Christmas.

Ask the students, ‘What are you looking forward to most about Christmas?’

Pause to allow time for thought.

Ask the students, ‘When we open our Advent calendars, do we take some time to consider the true meaning of Advent?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Dear God,
Thank you for Christmastime.
Thank you for all the fun and excitement.
Please help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas and to have a good time with our families and friends.


Any appropriate Christmas song.

Publication date: December 2019   (Vol.21 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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