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Here Comes Advent!

The history of the Advent calendar

by Rebecca Parkinson

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the history of the Advent calendar.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need 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, in which case you will also need the means to do so.


  1. Ask the students whether they are willing to admit to having an Advent calendar and enjoying opening it every day in the lead-up to Christmas.

    Depending on when you are delivering the assembly, point out that many of the students will probably have been opening Advent calendars already or have them ready to open.

  2. Show the various types of Advent calendar.

    The idea of counting down the days to Christmas came from a tradition in Germany in the early nineteenth century. Starting on 1 December, Christians would 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.

  3. As time went on, some families began to light a candle each day, starting on 1 December. Other families would put a small 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. The intention was to remind people that Jesus, the light of the world, was born on Christmas Day.

  4. 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. As now, the top layer had 24 small doors cut into it so that a different door could be opened each 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.

  5. During the Second World War, Advent calendars disappeared, 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 and had a picture of a stable scene on them to remind people of the story of Jesus’ birth.

  6. Over the years, Advent candles also became popular. These have 25 sections marked on them and, starting on 1 December, one section of the candle is burnt down each day.

  7. In more recent years, there has been a massive boom in chocolate Advent calendars. Now, a huge variety of Advent calendars is available.

  8. 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?

Encourage the students to pause for a moment and remember why Advent calendars were first developed: to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

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


A Christmas song that is appropriate to the school.

Publication date: November 2022   (Vol.24 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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