During the season of Advent in about 1880 or so, the mother of Gerhard Lang made her young son a cardboard calendar featuring twenty-four sweets, one per day, with which to mark off the time until Christmas. She surely wasn’t the only mother to do something like this for her child.
Advent was introduced as a four-week (give or take) period of preparation leading up to Christmas by Pope Gregory I in the early seventh century. It took a while to catch on, but by the nineteenth century, German families in particular were finding clever ways to keep track of the days. Some used tear-away pages or tally marks on doorframes. Others lit candles or placed markers on ladder rungs.
But it was Gerhard Lang who is generally given credit for popularizing the advent calendar style most people use today, as a direct result of the creativity of his mother and his resulting magical childhood. When Gerhard grew up and became a printer, he remembered the calendar his mother had made for him and began mass producing a twenty-five-day calendar with doors to be opened each day leading up to Christmas in the month of December. Behind each door was a picture or Bible verse.
Then in 1958, Cadbury began producing Advent calendars with twenty-four chocolate treats to be enjoyed one at a time from December first to somewhere around December fourth, which is about as long as any chocolate Advent calendar has ever lasted for me.
But like Gerhard Lang, I had a pretty magical childhood. Not only did my dad usually purchase an inexpensive chocolate Advent calendar for me and for each of my siblings from the local high school German club’s annual fundraiser, but my mom also made a calendar for the family that we took turns opening.
Behind each door of the homemade version, my mom would write tasks we needed to do to get ready for Christmas. This included things like decorating the Christmas tree, making Christmas cards, or baking Christmas cookies. Sometimes our tasks were service projects for others or chores that needed to be done before Santa could come. Other times we found them more fun, like driving to look at Christmas lights or visiting with the big jolly elf himself. Seriously, my childhood was magical.
And this year, in my hometown, the season has gotten even a little bit more magical. A few months ago, one of my favorite former teachers (who gets credit for my appreciation of The Great Gatsby) was in the town square and happened to notice something. He looked up at a tall brick Farmer’s Bank building that has stood guard over the old downtown for more than a century and counted the windows. On one side, there are exactly twenty-four of them.
An idea was born. The teacher solicited some help from around town (including the artist who designs my book covers) and approached the bank to ask if they might make what they believed would be the world’s tallest Advent calendar. The answer was an enthusiastic yes.
And that’s how Christmas in my corner of the world became a little more magical.
17 thoughts on “A Little More Magical”
Very cool! I’m glad he was no Mr. Potter. What a neat idea.
Sounds like the bank was pretty quickly on board.
That is seriously cool. What a great idea. Advent on a building. Gonna be some big chocolates, though…
Ha! The bank is handing out candy in the lobby, but I don’t think it’s building size. Apparently the idea comes from Germany where a lot of towns do it. None as tall, though. 🙂
That’s a great idea, and kudos to all involved in making it happen. Our family is big on advent calendars. The one we’ve had for thirty some years has pockets deep enough to hide small craft ornaments, gifts, and other symbols of the season that get stuck onto a Velcro Christmas tree outline. I too believe chocolate > wine. I actually think chocolate > everything else.
There’s not much that beats chocolate.
What a wonderful Advent calendar! We have an Advent calendar but don’t have candy in the squares. We have a bowl of candy in front of it and just take one a day!
And there are still candies in the bowl? I’m impressed!
I secretly refill the candy bowl so we can all feel good about our self-control.
Great blog, Sarah. It was a true Christmas miracle our calendar wasn’t visited in the middle of the night by those pesky chocolate eating elves.
Ha! Pretty sure those elves visited my house a lot.
I finally got to see it in person at the end of last week. It’s pretty impressive!
Loved your Mom’s tradition!
It was pretty special. I tried to continue it with my kids, but our holiday season is unfortunately just too busy to manage it.
Hopefully a new tradition has been born on a grand scale! My parents really got into Advent. Dad would dress up as Herod and we would all play various roles. We have continued the Advent Calendar tradition as we have two grandchildren living with us but it has eroded. The candles are extinguished quickly after the Bible reading because I left them unattended several years ago and almost burned the house down. The mints in the pockets for each day disappear by December 8th so it always seems like a short Advent. But my wife dutifully refills them.
Advent gets so busy, I confess we occasionally miss a night or two.