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The History of Advent

Gingerbread christmas treesGifts & Greetings Review celebrates the start of the Holy season with beautiful images and an intriguing history lesson provided courtesy of Yellow House Licensing

In which country did advent calendars originate? When & where was the first advent calendar printed? The answers lie with the same nation that brought us Christmas trees and the culture of festive traditional markets, the home-baking of cookies cut-out into snowflakes and holly leaves….Germany of course!

Image: Christmas Tree Cookies by Assaf Frank
bethlehem 600Children love counting-down to a special event, and the ‘number of sleeps’ is no more prevalent than on the run-up-to Christmas Day. The delight of opening a little door to see what lies behind is a joy for young and old alike.

Yellow House artist Claire Winteringham has created a series of advent calendars for Art Angels, showing how advent imagery has developed over time from traditional images of Bethlehem to an Inuit eskimo landscape…

Image: Bethlehem landscape by Claire Winteringham

So when did it all begin? The first advent calendars appeared in 19th century Germany when, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas or simply on 1st December, Protestant Christians would count down the days by writing numbers on their doors with a piece of chalk which could then be rubbed off one by one as Christmas approached.

wreathActivities around the history of Advent include burning a candle or putting up a small religious picture to mark each day. Advent wreaths are still popular today, especially in Germanic countries where an advent wreath containing four candles takes pride of place, with one candle lit every Sunday until all four are alight on Christmas Eve.

Image: Candle Wreath, Jehane Boden Spears

There is some disagreement as to when the first printed advent calenda1015rs appeared, although it is clear that they were first produced at some time in the 1900s. Claims are that a Christian bookshop in Hamburg produced a ‘Christmas Clock’ in 1902, and a newspaper in Stuttgart is known to have included an advent caldendar in its pages in 1904. The first mass producer of advent calendars is thought to have been Gerhard Lang, who worked at the Reichhold & Lang printing office in Munich.

Image: Filippino Lippi -The Madonna and Child with infant St John and two angels’

alex advent 12Initially only showing religious images or bible extracts, we are all familiar with the magic of what then developed; the inclusion of sweeties or chocolates behind little doors – to the delight of  young children and even the occasional adult!

Image: Advent image by Alex T Smith

wha031983Interestingly, the practice escalated up until the Second World War, when paper and cardboard were rationed and advent-calendar production ground to a halt. Once the war ended, though, the production began again, pioneered by Richard Sellmer in 1946. In the UK, chocolates began to appear behind the doors as soon as rationing would allow.
The introduction of the advent calendar to the USA was aided by ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, whose grandchildren took a shine to the idea. Some advent calendars come in the form of books with 24 individual stories or chapters.

Image: British recruitment poster – ‘Women of Britain say – GO!’

In Scandinavia, it is also common to have a series of ‘Julekalender’ programmes on the television, one for each day up until Christmas.

luke jamesWith the advent of the internet came the online advent calendar offering many different images or cartoons hidden behind the ‘doors’. Don’t miss Yellow House’s own on-line selection of Advent images for December 2013 starting with Luke James’ winter forest on December 1st….

With best wishes for the Season!