Advent – from the Latin for ‘arrival’ – is the period in the Christian church before Christmas. For most, it starts on the Sunday closest to 30th November – four Sundays and four weeks before Christmas Day – but this varies depending on the church. Secular traditions though, have it starting on 1st December, and it’s this date that we take for the Advent calendars we buy – or craft – each year.
There have been lots of ways of marking the passing of the Advent period over the centuries, including fasting and candles. It’s thought that 19th-century German Lutherans are the source of the first calendar – they would mark doors with chalk for each day. And though it’s somewhat contested, most people consider Gerhard Lang to be the creator of the first printed Advent calendar in 1908. As a child, his mother had stuck 24 sweets to a piece of card for him and the idea stuck into adulthood when, after opening a printing press, he was inspired by the family tradition to create a version he could sell to his customers.
Printed calendars made from card – with 24 windows to open revealing festive or religious images behind – are still the most popular form of Advent calendar. But, there are also a whole host of hand-crafting ideas to try, from fabric wall hangings with pockets in which to hide sweets, to jars labelled with cut-out paper numbers and arranged along a shelf, to the German tradition of decorating a wreath with 24 miniature bags or boxes.