For decades, many Americans have celebrated the 24 days until Christmas with the classic countdown calendars, opening little doors or drawers to reveal a small treat — traditionally a Bible verse, a toy or a piece of chocolate. But companies are getting increasingly creative, meaning there's a much wider variety of Advent goodies to choose from these days.
Advent Calendars Now Offer Treats For Grown-Ups
Wine, makeup, jam, beef jerky, jewelry, pet treats, socks, skin care, hot sauce, candles, tea bags and Pokémon pieces are just some of this year's possibilities. There are also virtual calendars that offer new riddles, games and songs each day.
Here's a look at how we got here.
The calendars have their religious roots in Germany
First things first: The season of Advent dates back to the fourth century, and is celebrated by most Christian churches in the Western tradition. The four-week period begins on the Sunday closest to the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30) and lasts for the next three Sundays.
Americans Didn't Always Celebrate Christmas The Way We Do Today
Today, most Advent calendars don't technically cover the Advent season, but instead start on Dec. 1 and run through either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The length of the Advent season changes from year to year, so it's easier to pick a set number of days for calendars that can be reproduced or reused every season.
Advent calendars have their roots in the 19th century, when German Protestants started taking creative steps to mark the days leading up to Christmas, like ticking off chalk marks on walls or doors, lighting candles and placing straws in a Nativity crib. Some families hung up a devotional image each day, which led to the creation of the first known handmade, wooden Advent calendar in 1851 and other early "Christmas clocks" and "Christmas candles" in the following years.
German publisher Gerhard Lang is credited as the inventor of the printed Advent calendar, which was inspired by the childhood memory of his mom sewing 24 cookies into the lid of a box and allowing him to eat one each day of Advent. Lang produced the first printed and commercial Advent calendar in the early 1900s — in partnership with illustrator Ernst Kepler — and continued to innovate over the years, including creating the first calendars with doors in the 1920s.
Americans are shopping smart this holiday season.
Plus, as NPR has reported, and they're a great way for companies to get samples to customers, especially those who might go on to purchase more of their products down the road. By bundling products together, retailers are subtly encouraging shoppers to spend more than they might otherwise. And brands are hoping people will go out and buy more — or full-size versions — of what they liked, even after the holiday season is over.
Advent calendars don't just have to be for Christmas, so consider stocking up now for countdowns to future birthdays, graduations or other special occasions.