On December 1st there will be few homes in Germany without an Advent Calendar in pride of place, as it is time to open one of its 24 numbered doors, or small containers of some type, and begin another of Germany's Christmas traditions. Every day until Christmas Eve, Heiligabend - Holy Evening and the end of Advent, another door will be opened. And it isn't even necessary to have a child in the home.
Behind each number, often there is a "25" for Christmas Day, are chocolate angels, stars or snowmen, candies, small toys or other surprises; while for "more mature" tastes there might be chocolate truffles or liqueurs.
There are several legends as to their origins, but it's thought the first Advent Calendars came about in 19th Century Germany's Protestant region, where devout families marked each day to "Heiligabend" with a chalk line drawn on a door, or wall.
A long way from some 1.75 meter (5 feet) high Advent calendars these days; their twenty four doors opening onto everything from designer sunglasses to photos of 8.5 meter (28 feet) speedboats that, for obvious reasons, do not fit.
By the late 1800's chalk lines had developed into a painted poster or card with its twenty four windows opening onto a biblical verse, or religious scene, while families also began creating their own calendars.
The first mass printed Advent calendar is thought to have had tiny colored pictures, one to be stuck onto its cardboard base each day, and was produced in 1908 Munich by Gerhard Lang. A pastor's son born in Maulbronn, a village in Southern Germany's Black Forest.
During his childhood Gerhard's mother made him calendars to mark the days of Advent; twenty four small boxes attached to a board, each holding a sweet biscuit or small candle to mark the days to Christmas Eve.
He developed this idea, beginning a new Advent tradition in Germany, and eventually produced thirty different styles of calendar: with little doors, or small attached bags, containing pictures of the nativity, bible extracts or candy.
World War II ended the custom as cardboard was rationed, and Advent not celebrated as it had been. Gerhard Lang's business closed, and it was not until 1946 that a commercial tradition restarted in the US zone of post war Germany; by Richard Sellmer working in the living room of his Stuttgart home.
President Eisenhower bought some calendars for his grandchildren in the early 1950's, when the idea was part of charitable business cooperation in the USA, and the custom also regained popularity throughout Germany then began to spread worldwide. By the end of the 1950's there were chocolates or sweets behind the calendar windows.
Many German towns feature a Walking Advent Calendar, where a painted and themed window on individual buildings is illuminated each day until twenty four decorate the dark streets; while in other towns and cities the Town Hall itself becomes an Advent calendar, with a window decorated by school children or artists revealed every evening.
The pink baroque Town Hall in Gengenbach, a beautiful medieval town of half timbered buildings and cobbled streets in southwest Germany's Black Forest, has the largest of these giant Advent calendars.
While on the other side of the country in Leipzig, Saxony, a two by three meter (6.1/2 x 10 feet) three-dimensional window, is part of the largest freestanding Advent calendar in the world and opens every evening from December 1st until Christmas.
But almost certainly the most treasured Advent calendars are the ones brought out from the Christmas decoration box and filled with small surprises each year.
Handmade designs created while children are small, and most often with their help, handed down through the generations or bought from a Weihnachtsmarkt and treasured for their memories, they contribute to the feeling of tradition, continuation and charm that is a German Christmas.
Have a wonderful "Adventszeit".
Wooden Advent Calendar dawanda.com - Adventskalender am Rathaus von Gengenbach, the largest Advent calendar in the world, Alt Rathaus, old Town Hall in Gengenbach, in the Black Forest, Baden-Wuerttemberg, photographer Dieter Wissing, via Kultur-und Tourismus GmbH stadt-gengenbach.de - Crafted Calendar by wunderbare-enkel.de
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