Advent Calendars - Traditions and Modern Trends

Updated: 01/12/2022
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Advent calendars have become a staple tradition of Christmas, helping us to count down the days from the 1st to the 25th December. Since their invention, they have evolved from having little doors which concealed a picture or a bible verse and now include gifts such as alcohol, makeup, or even cheese. 

The first printed calendar in Germany 

Traditional German advent calendars

German-born Gerhard Lang is considered to be the producer of the first printed Advent calendar in the early 1900s. However, with the outbreak of World War II, cardboard became rationed in Germany and Lang was forced to close down his business in the 1930s.

After the war, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart created a calendar based on a more traditional winter town scene. It was called “The Little Lown”.

It was forbidden to produce calendars with pictures at the time. Instead, the Nazis produced their own version of an Advent calendar – a pamphlet which included images with swastikas and tanks being blown up.

By 1946, Sellmer had taken up commercial production of Advent calendars and was producing them en masse. In the 1950s, his calendars were exported to the US and had become more affordable.

The first advent calendars in the UK were gifts from Germany or Scandinavia or brought in by immigrants.  In the wake of the Second World War, there were examples of them being sent to Britain as tokens of friendship from communities on the continent. By 1956, they were being commercially produced and advertised here. Their novelty is indicated by the explanations of what they actually were.

Online retailer Alpen Schatz is one place where you can find traditional German advent calendars made in the tradition of German craftsmanship. Nowadays, the prevalent trend for German advent calendars is chocolate as this is what both men and women would like to find in the calendars' compartments. Women also prefer cosmetics and small individually wrapped gifts while men would like to have their advent calendars filled with products such as beverages, toys, and even tools. 

Germans preferences for advent calendars
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Advent Calendars Come to the UK 

Advent calendars UK

The 1950s was an important decade for the development of the British Christmas. It saw the first mass wave of working-class affluence and many parents wanted to give their children what they had never had.  Spending on presents rose dramatically and traditions such as Christmas trees, which had previously been concentrated amongst the middle class, spread across the social scale.

The appeal of the Advent calendar was rooted in how it framed and shaped the anticipation of Christmas. Whereas Christmas day was the beginning of the religious festival, since the late Victorian period shopping and other preparations had shifted the secular focus to the weeks before the big day. The enjoyment that children derived from this anticipation was a significant reward and motive for parents’ spending and the Advent calendar simply gave some shape to a feeling already there.

Chocolate advent calendars were being made in the UK in the 1950s and 60s but do not seem to have caught on and right through into the 1980s the standard British calendar was a cardboard sheet of festive images with a picture of the nativity scene on the 24th, its last day.  Cadbury’s did not manufacture its first chocolate calendar until 1971 and did not put them into continuous production until 1993. The fact that it was not until the 1990s that chocolate calendars became the norm is evidence of both how quickly new traditions can become established and how recent some of our Christmas practices actually are.

Nowadays, chocolate, tea, and cosmetics advent calendars are one of the most sought-after items across UK online stores during holiday seasons but there are all kinds of differently-themed calendars, such as LEGO, Marvel, and even James Bond. If you want to get some authentic UK calendars for yourself or as a gift, you can shop at UK online stores and use forward2me to have them delivered to your doorstep. If you ship your calendars on December 5, you can take advantage of our huge discount for Send It Monday and ship your orders at half price using a special code. 

It is tempting to see the move to giving children a chocolate every day as another sign of the commercialisation of Christmas and ever growing levels of festive consumption. The emergence in the past few years of luxurious calendars with toys and even food, drink and gifts aimed at adults has added to this sense and led to accusations that religious ideas are being ‘trampled on and colonised’.

The classic advent calendar has 24 or 25 windows that you prise open to reveal a small chocolate behind each one – sometimes a larger one for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or a couple of miscellaneous days along the way. The chocolate will be in a Christmassy shape, whether that’s a present, a reindeer, or something a bit more obscure like a candy cane (which doesn’t normally lend itself well to the square shape of the chocolates).

Some of the most bought Advent calendars in the UK for 2021 included: 
  • Cadbury dairy milk advent calendar
  • Marks & Spencer Percy pig advent calendar 
  • The Body Shop advent calendar 
  • The M&S amazing solar system advent calendar
  • The Liberty beauty advent calendar
  • Penhaligon’s Advent Calendar 
  • Twinings Superblends Advent Calendar 

Japanese Advent Calendars

Japanese advent calendars

Japanese Christmas Advent Calendars are also one thing you want to look forward to for the December holiday season. They consist of 25 special boxes that you can open each day for some little surprises. This makes the countdown to Christmas more exciting as you don't know what's inside the box. So, the closer it gets to Christmas big day, the more excited you or the kids are about opening and finishing up the advent calendar.

However, these advent calendars are sold out early, making it hard for the buyers to get them the closer it gets to December. And this is one reason for most brands to launch their best advent calendar 2 or 3 months before December for pre-order.

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