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What is the Purpose of an Advent Calendar?

An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count down to December 25: The celebration of the Birth of Jesus. The Advent calendar tradition evidently dates back to the 1850s and typically includes 24 doors or boxes to open, one for every day in December leading up to Christmas Day.

Updated Dec 05, 2023
What is the Purpose of an Advent Calendar?

The Advent season comes each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While the Advent celebration has been around since the 4th Century and Advent calendars since the 19th century, it's only recently been a "megatrend" of late with stores expanding their Advent calendar offerings. Some Advent calendars are simple, revealing a picture of a portion of the nativity story behind each tiny door. Some calendars feature a piece of chocolate, a pair of socks, a tea bag, or even a pet treat for each day of the countdown... Some are more elaborate and expensive and include toys or gifts such as wine, cheese, or makeup.

But what is their real purpose and meaning? Let's take a look at everything you need to know about the origins of an Advent Calendar as you prepare to celebrate this special season:

What is Advent?

For most of Christianity, Advent is the time of preparation for the arrival of Christmas, commemorating the Birth of Christ, and anticipating His Second Coming. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It typically lasts for four weeks, leading up to Christmas Day. The word "advent" itself comes from the Latin word "adventus," which means "coming" or "arrival," and it reflects the expectation and waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ.

During the Advent season, Christians focus on preparing their hearts and minds for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which is commemorated on Christmas Day. This preparation involves spiritual reflection, prayer, and the lighting of Advent candles on an Advent wreath, with each candle symbolizing different themes like hope, peace, joy, and love.

Learn more about the history and traditions of Advent.

What is an Advent Calendar?

The Advent calendar tradition seemingly dates back to the 1850s. The calendar typically includes 24 doors or boxes to open, one for every day in December leading up to Christmas Day. Advent calendars, which can take various forms, are used by many families and individuals as a daily countdown to Christmas, with the small doors or compartments that reveal a surprise or piece of chocolate each day, further building anticipation for the holiday. However, the Advent calendar has a much deeper purpose and significance than just a treat.

An Advent calendar is a unique calendar used to help us count down to December 25th: The celebration of the birth of Jesus. Advent calendars range between 22 and 28 days, depending on the day of the week for Christmas.

We count down to the celebration of the first Advent because we have a set day on the calendar since it has already occurred. We commemorate the birth of Jesus on December 25. Although it’s doubtful that December 25th was Jesus’ actual birthday, it’s traditionally selected to remember and reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior. 

Is it possible to go overboard with the concept of the Advent calendar, allowing it to even distract from the reason for the season: the birth of Christ? Absolutely, but anything has the potential to distract us instead of focusing our hearts on Christ and His coming to earth as the Savior of the world. Be sure to use your Advent calendar as a faithful preparation for Christmas, joyfully anticipating the Nativity of Christ!

Get your FREE copy of 25 Days of Advent Devotionals and Readings! Print these and share them with family and friends to keep your mind's attention and heart's affection for Jesus this holiday season.

History of the Advent Calendar

The history of the Advent calendar can be traced back to 19th-century Germany, where it originated as a way to count down the days to Christmas and emphasize the religious aspects of the holiday. The early Advent calendars were quite different from the ones we see today. In 1900, the earliest printed Advent calendar, known as "St. Nicholas the Santa Claus," obtained utility model protection under the name of Carl Straub in Munich. Shortly after, in 1902, the "Christmas Clock for Children" made its debut, marking the beginning of Advent clocks.

Gerhard Lang, who became known as the "inventor of Advent calendars," began regularly releasing innovative and playful variations featuring graphic designs by renowned children's book illustrators at his Munich publishing house around 1904/1908. These variations encompass calendars with scrapbooks, tear-off calendars, calendars with figures to insert into a background image, and the iconic door calendars that remain popular today. Lang is also credited with creating the first Advent calendar featuring chocolate in 1926 and the inaugural Advent calendar designed for the visually impaired in 1930.

  1. 19th Century: The first Advent calendars were simple and primarily consisted of chalk marks or candles that people would use to mark off each day in December leading up to Christmas. In some cases, families would draw or hang up religious images or Bible verses to help them focus on the spiritual meaning of the season.

  2. Early 20th Century: Around the early 20th century, printed Advent calendars began to emerge in Germany. These early versions featured religious images and were often created by churches or individuals as a way to engage in daily devotions during Advent. The first printed Advent calendar is believed to have been produced in 1903.

  3. 20th Century Commercialization: In the mid-20th century, Advent calendars started to become more commercialized, with the inclusion of small doors or windows that could be opened each day to reveal a hidden picture or religious verse. This design added an element of surprise and excitement for children, making Advent even more engaging.

  4. Chocolate Advent Calendars: One significant development in the history of Advent calendars was the introduction of chocolate-filled calendars in the early 20th century, particularly in Germany and other European countries. These calendars became popular among children, as they offered a sweet treat each day during the countdown to Christmas.

  5. Secularization and Modernization: In the latter half of the 20th century, Advent calendars began to take on more secular themes, featuring popular characters, toys, or other items behind the calendar doors. This shift allowed Advent calendars to appeal to a broader audience beyond the Christian religious context.

How to Create an Advent Calendar

There are various ways to create a "countdown" calendar for Advent. A simple method is to use sticky notes on a regular calendar, starting with the first day of Advent this year (December 3, 2023). Place a note on each day, with numbers counting down the 28 days to Christmas Eve (December 24th). On the back of each sticky note, you can write Bible verses (like "Luke 2:11") to read for that day related to the prophecies or birth of Jesus Christ. After your Bible reading, thank God in prayer and celebrate His coming by sharing candy or dessert! Use these Advent Bible verses to find scripture readings for your Advent calendar.

Advent of the Second Coming

Advent usually refers to the first coming of Christ to earth: His birth to the Virgin Mary. God became flesh. This is known as the Incarnation

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

That is not the only Advent, however. The second coming of Christ, or second Advent, has not yet happened. We know from the Bible, the Word of God, that it will happen. Jesus is coming again! We simply don’t know when.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:7-11).

We can only have an Advent calendar for the first Advent. We cannot count down to an unknown date and time. However, we can be ready for the second Advent. And how can we accomplish this? 

1. Make sure you are a true disciple. First, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and, as Acts 16:31 promises, “you will be saved.” Second, live to do the Father’s will! “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). God’s will is clearly revealed in His Word, the Bible. 

2. Make other disciples! Spread the good news about Jesus! Jesus did not leave us without purpose or direction. He gave His disciples a task to accomplish until His return: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Advent and Christmas are right around the corner. Celebrate Jesus’ first coming and be ready for His second coming! 

©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Natalia Bodrova

Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany, for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books, Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.


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