The story behind your advent calendar

18 Oct 2023

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We unfold the story behind the origins of your advent calendar

  • What is the meaning of the advent calendar?
  • What are the four themes of advent?
  • The history of the advent calendar
  • Different types of advent calendar
  • What to put in your calendar

Are you counting down the days till Christmas? We certainly are! With all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, it’s easy to lose track of time – all of a sudden, it’s Christmas eve and you’ve still got a thousand and one things to tick off your to-do list!

Whilst advent calendars get us in the festive mood, they also help ground us at this hectic time. To pay homage to advent calendars, we’ve unwrapped the story behind your advent calendar, so that you know just that little bit extra information for when you open a new door each day.

Creative stocking style advent calendar hanging

What is the meaning of the advent calendar?

Derived from the Latin term adventus, meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’, advent was originally seen as a time which marked Christ’s second coming to the world to judge humanity. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that advent started to mark the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, acting as a countdown to the time when Christ was born.

Although we now typically see advent calendars in houses from the December 1 until December 24, advent calendars aren’t strictly for December only. Advent Sunday – the first of the four Sundays before Christmas Day – can fall between November 27 and December 3.

However, most people tend to wait until December to pop open their first door – expect to see advent calendars during November in churches only. We can’t help but feel this should be made more of the norm at Christmas: who can say no to an extra few days of chocolate, guilt-free?

What are the four themes of advent?

To us, an advent calendar is typically box-shaped with doors hiding treats behind them. However, in Christian churches they take a very different form. Advent is marked not by chocolate-filled doors, but with an Advent Wreath. As a nod to the Advent origins, we’ve made our own wreath, except ours is filled with chocolatey treats for everyone to enjoy.

Candle Christmas wreath decoration

An Advent Wreath is made from a circle of intertwined evergreen branches, which is meant to symbolise the idea of never-ending life. Placed on top of this wreath are five candles. Four of these candles, which are typically red, are placed on the outside of the wreath, whilst the fifth candle – traditionally white – sits in the middle of the wreath.

The four exterior candles represent one of the four Sundays of Advent, whilst the fifth candle marks Christmas day. Each Sunday the priest will light another candle so that during the last week before Christmas all four red candles on the wreath twinkle with light. Members of the Church will only see the white candle lit on December 25 – the day of Jesus Christ’s birth.

The four advent Sunday candles carry traditional Christian meanings behind them:

  • The Candle of Hope – this candle symbolises light in the darkness. When Christians look at this candle it should celebrate the hope they have in Jesus Christ.
  • The Candle of Peace – this candle symbolises the peace people find in Christ.
  • The Candle of Love – to Christians, this should instil a feeling of love and adoration in Jesus.
  • The Candle of Joy – this candle symbolises joy.

The history of the advent calendar

It is thought that Advent was first celebrated back in AD567 when monks would fast in the month leading up to Christmas. Although this seems like the antithesis of the holiday mood – we always see December as a time to pig out – fasting during the lead up to Christmas is more common than you might think.

Throughout many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, Advent lasts 40 days and is known as the Nativity Fast, starting on November 15. Foods such as dairy and meat are also off-limits during Advent.

Originally, an advent calendar took the form of a Nativity scene, presented in ‘advent images’ or a ‘vessel cup’. A box with a glass lid on top and adorned with ribbons and flowers would contain two dolls representing Mary and baby Jesus. This box was carried door to door, and it was said to be bad luck if you hadn’t seen one before Christmas Eve.

Decoration representing Mary and baby Jesus

However, the idea of counting down the days till Christmas started in Germany, During the 19th century, families began to count down the days to Christmas by tallying chalk marks on a door or wall. Varieties of this practice also took the form of hanging up a religious picture for each day leading to Christmas eve or lighting a candle, and by the early 1900s newspapers and publishing companies started to produce simple paper calendars.

The popularity of advent calendars grew with the help of a German printer named Gerhard Lang who designed a cardboard calendar after being inspired by his homemade one. By the 1920s, he developed an idea of cutting little doors into cardboard, each hiding a biblical picture or a Bible verse behind the doors.

The production of advent calendars began to slow after paper rations in WW2 were brought into place, but people’s love of them never died. By the 1950s, many calendars began including small gifts, such as chocolates or toys, behind the door. Over time, advent calendars became less religious, with more people seeing them as a fun way to countdown the days until Christmas.

Nowadays, advent calendars are miles away from the religious boxes that they once were. We’ve taken ours even further than your typical chocolate advent calendar – The Grand Advent Calendar contains caramels, truffles, and even miniature festive tipples to get you in the spirit each day.

Different types of advent calendar

Around the world, Advent can take on many different forms: in China, Christian civilians celebrate Christmas by hanging up colourful paper lanterns and red paper pagodas in windows.

Lutheran Churches in Scandinavia light 24 miniature candles to count down the days of December. In Germany, people hang 24 boxes of a wreath of fir branches, and open a box (containing a small gift) every day.

Christmas candle burning

The advent calendars themselves are also starting to move away from the traditional idea of a cardboard box. Some producers have altogether ditched the idea of a chocolate-filled box – a jewellers in Belgium made their own advent calendar, consisting of 24 glass tubes containing diamonds and silver, selling for £1.7 million.

We love how creative people are becoming with their calendars nowadays: instead of turning to traditional cardboard boxes with doors, Christmas-lovers are getting creative and making their own reusable advent calendar:

  • Toilet paper tube – got some spare toilet rolls lingering about? Rather than throwing them away, why not get some paint or artsy paper to deck them out a bit – get the full tutorial here.
  • Fireplace advent calendar – grab a long piece of tinsel, a reusable garland, or a strong piece of rope and hang it up around your fireplace. Hang small burlap bags from them for a special surprise each day
  • Envelope advent calendar – miniature envelopes are easy to find in stores or online – glue them up against a blank picture frame or simply pin on a corkboard before they’re filled with treats you know they’ll love
  • Wooden calendar – if you’ve got an old pallet or crate leftover, grab some paints, pegs, card and string to create your own design. A relatively easy alternative to your traditional advent calendar, we love how durable and long lasting this calendar is – for more inspiration, click here
  • Mason jar calendar – modern and stylish, mason jars are perfect for when you want to celebrate Advent in the traditional way. Place candles in five jars and light each one every following Sunday up until Christmas day. Alternatively, find 24 spare jars, sterilise, and hide a wrapped gift inside for them
  • Matchbox pyramid calendar – take store-bought matchboxes and glue them sideways up together to form a pyramid, starting with nine from the base, decreasing each time until there’s only one left at the top of the pyramid. Next, use festive-inspired wrapping paper to cover the sides. Finally, write numbers on each door and fill with a gift of your choice.

What to put in your calendar

We hate the cheap, crumbly stuff you find in low-quality advent calendars – eating chocolate consecutively for 24 days is a time which should be celebrated, which is why you should take Advent as an opportunity to indulge in your darkest chocolate fantasies.

If you’re after a simple, no fuss calendar, our classic creations come in white, milk and dark chocolate. We use high amounts of cocoa to keep our chocolate ridiculously rich with a smooth and creamy finish – perfect for when you need a little bit of indulgence first thing in the morning.

For the little ones, our Up to Snow Good calendar is filled with 24 of our festive friends, sculpted by our in-house Chocolate Sculptress. Of course, we wouldn’t forget about the parents: the Advent Calendar For Two contains two truffles for each day so that you won’t ever feel the need to sneak a chocolate from your child’s advent calendar. If that’s not exciting enough, our Everything Advent is filled with our most iconic recipes – expect to be munching on a Carrot Cake one morning, or our Brownie the next.

Hotel Chocolat Christmas advent calendar

If you’ve made a calendar of your own, but you’re not sure where to start when it comes to filling it, we suggest you focus on a theme. For the dessert-lovers, The Winter Puddings Sleekster contains 27 of your favourite festive cakes, cookies and crumbles, all reimagined in chocolate form – with this chocolate box, dessert for breakfast is certainly acceptable.

If you fancy a bit more freedom when it comes to filling your advent calendar, our Selectors Collection lets you choose all of their favourite flavours, whether it’s caramels for the little ones or boozy chocolates for the adults.

Nothing raises our spirits like – uh – spirits, which is why we think The Velvetised Cream Collection would go down a treat – just maybe not first thing in the morning. Let them open the doors to Espresso Martini, Mint and Chocolate velvetised creams, perfect for stirring into hot chocolate or pouring over ice for a neat late evening drink.

We hope we’ve inspired you to open a new door to your Advent calendar this year – don’t let yourself settle for the usual cheap chocolate. Get creative and treat yourself to something extra-special this December – you deserve it, after all.