What are German Advent Calendars?
The Advent calendar originated in the 19th century from the German Lutherans, who would physically count down the first 24 days of Christmas. They would use chalk to draw a line on the door each day starting from December 1st. Some families would light a new candle each day or hang a new religious picture. In addition to these methods, the 24 candles could also be placed on a structure called an "Advent clock." It was first publicly hung in a prayer hall in December of 1839. The first printed calendar was made by Gerhard Lang. during his childhood, his mother attached small candies to a chalkboard and Gerhard would take one off each day for the countdown. These German calendars were sold for many years up until World War II, when the war shortages caused a stop in time production. The production of the calendars restarted in 1946 when the war ended. Richard Selmer resumed the production. The credit goes to President Eisenhower for making the Advent calendars popular in America. Even today, his company is producing the calendars and selling them online. Although there were shortages during the war, some German artisans continued to produce wooden Advent calendars instead of paper to reduce paper consumption.
Here is a picture of a wooden Advent calendar: (source):
Nowadays, Advent calendars are specially used in celebration or as a countdown of Advent, which means the arrival of Christmas. Some of the calendars are quite religious and some are secular. Although someone could begin their countdown to Christmas earlier than December, most of the calendars for sale begin on December 1st. Also, most Advent calendars are made for children. Most of them are a rectangular shaped card with pictures and little square windows or pockets that have a prize behind them. On some cards, for each day of Advent a window is opened and behind the "window" there is a poem or picture about Jesus' birthday. In addition, some cards include a picture of religious or popular iconic figures that hide behind the "window" for each day. The traditional cards have remained to be the same design as before. They have a paper or cardboard piece and a small goodie hiding behind the doors. Furthermore, the traditional German calendars today still show 24 days and the last one is opened on Christmas Eve. However, you can find some with 25 days in the United States, with the last window to open on actual Christmas day.