Different methods of counting down the days to Christmas were common. Children in Germany often drew chalk lines or hung pictures to mark the days in anticipation of Christmas. Others lit candles each night during Advent. 1851 marks the appearance of the first printed Advent calendar - produced by Gerhard Lang. Lang developed the Advent calendar from tradition handed down from his mother - she would mark each day of Advent by attaching little candles to pieces of cardboard and, as a child, each day Gerhard would take one off. Lang's first printed calendar consisted of miniature colored pictures that would be attached to a piece of cardboard each day in December. Later versions of the Advent calendars were made with little doors to open up each day - the type of calendar we are most familiar with today.
The German calendars were sold until World War II, at which time production was stopped due to war shortages. After the war, the production of Advent calendars resumed in 1946. Many people credit President Eisenhower with helping the tradition spread and develop, in the United States, during his term in office. A newspaper article of the time featured the Eisenhower grandchildren with an Advent calendar and the public became very interested in the tradition.
The first Advent calendars were based on 24 days with Christmas Eve as the last night to put up a picture or take a piece of candy. Today, the traditional German calendars still show 24 days but in the United States it is not uncommon to find Advent calendars of 25 days - the last opening on Christmas Day.
There are Advent calendars of all types and shapes today. The calenders can have doors, windows, presents, candles, animals, skaters, figurines, cars, wagons, trees, flowers, and certainly a variety of Christian imagery on them. Each opening has a small number on it that is used as a countdown to Christmas. Calendars today can be masterfully deisgned by artists and can even become collector's items for their beauty and uniqueness.
The wonderful tradition of Advent calendars helps to heighten anticipation as children prepare for Christmas and they also create fond memories of the holy season of Christmas for loved ones to cherish through the years. Many families have enjoyed this tradition for generations and many as starting this tradition anew!"