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What is an Advent Calendar?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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An advent calendar is a special calendar that marks the days during Advent, the holy season celebrated by the Christian Church during December leading up to Christmas. It has taken on many forms over the years and has branched into secular society as a countdown to Christmas calendar aimed towards children.

Although the season of Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the 30th of November, most commercial advent calendars begin on the first of December. Traditionally, the calendar has two tiers, with the days from 1 December through 24 December represented. Each day is signified with a door to be opened. However, adaptations of the advent calendar include either doors or pockets, with various ways to mark the day. Frequently, it has room for a small treat to be hidden behind the door or in the pocket.

Commercial manufacturers have marketed the advent calendar in some form or another for many years. Some are decorated with images of the Nativity, while others are embellished with secular Christmas symbols, such as candy canes, snowmen, Santa Claus, and ornaments. Some such calendars are designed to mark the days of other celebrations, such as Hanukkah, Boxing Day, and the New Year.

There are so many variations of the advent calendar today that many people buy them for different purposes. As a countdown to Christmas aimed at children, a calendar might have a different activity printed on a card each day for children to enjoy. In addition, a piece of candy or other treat might appear when the door is opened. Though the traditional shape of an advent calendar is square tiers, many are shaped like houses, Christmas trees, and other Holiday symbols. Some represent the days with pouches, allowing users to move a candy cane from day to day during the Advent season.

Because there are so many variations on the advent calendar, there is one to suit nearly every family. Children enjoy using them as a way to count down to the big day, but many oppose this use of the calendar because it perpetuates commercialism. However, each household has its own traditions and beliefs centered around the holidays, and an advent calendar can be introduced as a tradition for celebrating, as a way to count down, or simply as a way to relish each day of the season.

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Discussion Comments
By ElizaBennett — On Jul 05, 2012

@rugbygirl - That sounds adorable! I love the idea of a reusable advent calendar.

I'm a big fan of turning things into Christmas tree ornaments when they wear out for their original purpose. Is anyone in your family crafty? They may be able to attach a ribbon to the mouse's head so that he could hang on the tree and still be a part of your family's traditions.

By rugbygirl — On Jul 05, 2012

An advent calendar doesn't have to be a commercial thing. We had one when I was a kid that we reused every year and it was one of our beloved family traditions. It had pockets for each day and a little stuffed mouse that fit into the pocket. (Actually, it was just a head and then a flat base for the pocket.)

We kids used to love when it was our turn it was to "jump the mouse." We had a *very* strict rotation for this delight!

When we got older, we often used to get a chocolate one, too, and take turns with both. But the mouse one was always special. Sadly, eventually the mouse kind of wore out; the base lost its stiffness so that it wouldn't stand up in the pocket anymore.

By anon23234 — On Dec 19, 2008

How many days are there on a traditional advent calendar?

By anon5904 — On Dec 09, 2007

The season of Advent actually begins on the Sunday nearest Nov 30, and lasts until Dec 24.

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