OTD | First Sunday of Advent: Origins of the advent calendar

Today, 29th November 2020, marks the first Sunday of Advent. Did you know that – like many aspects of modern Christmas traditions – the Advent Calendar is of German origin?

Two girls try to open a massive advent calendar at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin
Two girls try to open a massive advent calendar at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin

The simple tradition – started by Protestants after Martin Luther – began by drawing 24 chalk lines on a door and erasing one each day. Variations included 24 paper chains, lighting candles, and even receiving a piece of gingerbread. Additionally, families could hang a devotional image every day and this ultimately led to the creation of the first known handmade wooden Advent calendar in 1851.

Sometime in the early twentieth century (1902 or 1908, depending who you believe), the first printed Advent calendars appeared. These were followed in the 1920s by Gerhard Lang’s innovation of adding small doors to the calendars. Behind each door would be a picture or a bible verse, one for each day. During the Nazi regime, fairy-tale figures or Germanic gods replaced the original Christian symbols.

Today, Advent calendars are a tradition around the world. Some cities even create larger-than-life Advent calendars, where a real window is opened every day. The world’s largest Advent calendar can be seen in Gengenbach, Germany. Here, in the picturesque black forest, the Rathaus (Town Hall) is transformed into a calendar every year.

This slice of On This Day in Berlin History was written by Berlin Guides Association member, Susan Grouchy.

It’s one of four noteworthy events she’s chosen to remember this November. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else made the cut.