German Christmas Traditions Alive in Marin County
Living in Marin County (Northern California) we don’t always have deep cultural diversity – if anything our local culture is skewed toward the Latin traditions, which are also lovely, but not as unfamiliar to us as the newly discovered German traditions. Into our lives came an adorable German young woman named Milena, while she has been living with us she continues to share her culture in both every-day ways and holiday-inspired traditions.
While I’ve often had an advent calendar, I really didn’t know the history behind the tradition, but for me any excuse to eat chocolate, religious or otherwise, is welcome. With Milena sharing her childhood stories, and eager to do this art project she enjoyed as a youngling, I felt inspired to do a bit of digging into the history behind the tradition.
history of the Advent Calendar has been around for over 150 years and like so
many of the Christmas traditions, the origin of the calendar can be traced back
to Germany (circa 19th century). Originally created to count down
the days until Christmas, simple chalk lines were drawn on a door. The first
printed advent calendar was made by Gerhard Lang in Germany in 1908. As a child
Gerhard’s mother made him a simple advent calendar to count down the days until
Christmas placing 24 small pieces of candy on a piece of cardboard. Each day
Gerhard would take a piece of candy. The first calendar he produced did not
have windows but rather colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard for
each day of advent. Later, this format evolved and tiny doors were added to
open each day for a religious picture or verse or a piece of candy.
During World War II, German advent calendars were not produced because of rationing of cardboard. In 1946 Richard Sellmer started producing the advent calendars again in Germany. In order to do this Richard had to receive a printing license from the U.S. Military and the paper he used had to be purchased in the U.S. military zone. The calendars were made by hand. In 1950, the advent calendars started selling in the United States and immediately became very popular.
The calendars Milena made were nothing short of adorable and will be treasured in years to come. The treats contained within each day can range from coins to candy to pictures to poems.
It's not to late to start a tradition like this for your family, one that will become a fond memory in years to come. As for the other traditions, well on December 6th we were asked to place our shoes outside and when we awoke in the morning they were magically filled with candy compliments of St. Nicohlas Day. It's like Halloween in December but without all of the effort of dressing up and walking around- I am in!
Celebrating advent with an advent calendar is a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas with children. The tradition of the advent calendars provide more meaning to Christmas for families everywhere. This is certainly a tradition we will continue to adopt in years to come.
(Sidebar to impress your friends: two other very significant Germanic traditions that may ring a bell --Christmas Trees and Santa Claus!)