We’re counting down the days to Christmas as we spiritually prepare for the birth of the Christ Child.
This period is known as Advent, a time of spiritual preparation. The Advent season begins on the Sunday closest to the feast day of Saint Andrew, Nov. 30. Saint Andrew was an Apostle of Jesus, brother of Saint Peter, and was crucified on an X shaped cross because he deemed himself to be unworthy to be hung in the same manner as Jesus. He is the Patron Saint of Scotland, Russia, Romania, Greece, Ukraine and Poland.
Many families use an Advent calendar to count down the days to this most Holy Night (Weihnacht).
According to the Deutsches Weihnacht Museum, one piece of early evidence of an “advent calendar” was from a children’s book by Elise Averdieck (1808-1907) dated 1851. In the book every night, Elisabeth’s ‘Mutter‘ (German for mother) read to her and her siblings a portion of the Christmas story followed by the singing of Christmas Lieder; I imagine like- Stille Nacht, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet, Er ist ein Ros’ Entsrpungen, Alle Jahre Wieder usw. At the end of their routine they hung a religious symbol on their wall, knowing when the 24th one was hung it was Weihnacht. Some families would hang candy from string and cut one down every day or use chalk to mark the days.
As a little Junge, Gerhard Lang’s (1881 – 1974) Mutter gave him a box with 24 cookies sewn into the lid’s fabric. His Mutter allowed him to eat one every day until they were gone on Weihnacht. As an adult he took this childhood tradition, and after creating a prototype in 1904, he joined Reichhold & Lang, a lithography business, and printed the first Christmas Calendar “Christmas in the land of the Christ Child” in 1908. The annual calendars were illustrated by Ernst Kepler (1851- 1927), who was famous for his illustrations for anthologies, fairy tales and legends.
From their humble beginnings, we have today’s advent calendar. The dates now start with the first of December instead of the traditional St. Andrew Sunday. There are calendars with windows, some use stickers, some are 3-D. Others have pockets to hold trinkets or goodies. Calendars are religious and secular, with either the Christkind or St. Klaus on the 24th. What they all seem to have in common is they are counting down the days to Christmas, but are they? I recently came across a secular advent fabric panel that starts the count at the bottom with #1 and ends up at the top with St. Klaus!
No matter what you use or how you count the days to Weihnacht, do take this time of year to pause and reflect, and make a difference for those in need. A good time to donate to a food pantry, shovel your neighbor’s walk, call up someone who lives alone and brighten their day. Simple gestures mean a lot!
Wishing you a joyous season filled with love!
This article is dedicated to meine Mutter und Deutschlehrer Herr Lowell Shearer.