What is Advent (and Do I Have to Buy a Calendar?)

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A Brief History

On December 2, 2019, if you have not already waited in line for an hour or more, or more likely was smart and ordered yours online long ago, you may not be enjoying your wine, beer, cheese, candy, or even Hot Wheel Car from your commercially purchased Advent Calendar!  What is the deal with these “Advent Calendars” you keep seeing in ads and hearing about from your friends?  (Note: There are no commercial links in this article.)

Digging Deeper

In the Christian religions, the term “Advent” means a coming, usually regarding the coming birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day.  In Western Christian religions this usually means the period starting from the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day (November 30), up until Christmas Day.  In different Catholic sects Advent is timed a bit differently, starting 6 weeks before Christmas on the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day (November 11).  The beginning of Advent also marks the beginning of the liturgical year.  The Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity has a bit of a different take on Advent, with reference to a 40 day fast leading up to Christmas Day and does not recognize Advent as the beginning of their liturgical year.  Another religious use of the term, Advent, is the the Second Coming of Christ.

Various Christian sects celebrate Advent in different ways, with traditions such as when and how to go about placing Christmas decorations, daily devotional prayers, fasts, and even putting up the Christmas tree.  Various sects and locations have their own traditions about how to celebrate Advent and mark each day.  Music, special activities, religious or inspirational readings, decorations, wreaths and candles are common themes.  Another common way to mark Advent is to keep an Advent Calendar, which of course can be homemade of any style you find appropriate or purchased at a church related store or a plain old retail store or e-tail site online.  A “real” Advent Calendar should start on the liturgical day that Advent starts and end the day before Christmas, but the commercial variety of Advent Calendars commonly start on December 1 and go until December 24.  Advent calendars may often consist of little compartments behind closed doors with something special inside, such as a special prayer or thought of the day, some other object, or something to eat or drink on that day.

In the past few years, the commercialization of Advent Calendars has been a cultural phenomenon, with long lines waiting outside stores on the day the store puts their version of the Advent Calendar up for sale.  (Note:  This author was ordered by his wife to get to our local Aldi’s grocery an hour before they opened on the special day when their Advent Calendars went on sale so I could be sure to get her one, as last year we missed out when Aldi’s sold out of the darn things within a couple minutes at most stores!  After arriving early, I was second in line, and there were only about 10 or 12 people in line when the store opened for the 36 units of “wine” Advent Calendars the store had for sale.  I bought 2, the maximum amount!)  The commercial calendars have little real correlation to the actual Advent dates, and as we said above, usually start on December 1 and go through December 24.  The religious significance seems to have been lost for many people, especially those selling the calendars!

Advent Calendars are also popular gifts, though often not particularly cheap, especially for the more upscale versions containing a (usually little) bottle of wine, a different variety for each day of Advent. Expect to pay at least $50 and maybe well over $100.  For those who do not like wine, the stores also have beer Advent Calendars (I got one of these for myself), each compartment with a different variety of beer for each day, December 1 through December 24.  Chocolates or other candies, toys, or whatever you can think may occupy each individual slot/compartment, and for that matter, there is no law that says every compartment has to have the same type of treat, so you can mix whatever suits you in your own creation.

Getting back to the religious part of Advent, we can tell you that some Christians consider 3 types of Advent, the physical coming of Jesus Christ into the world with His birth on Christmas Day, believers accepting Christ into their hearts, and the Second Coming.

Whether you personally are a Christian or religious or not at any level, you can still enjoy the coming of the Holiday season by buying or creating your own Advent Calendar, and call it whatever you like!  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus (“for the rest of us…”) or the Winter Solstice, have some fun and find a pleasant way to prepare for the Holiday season!  Na Zdorovye!

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have an Advent Calendar?Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Ammons, Karl. Black Friday and the Christmas Creep: The Commercialization of Christmas.  CreateSpace, 2015.

Gragg, Sherri. Advent: The Story of Christmas. Dayspring, 2019.

Kimes, Joanne. Christmas Sucks: What to Do When Fruitcake, Family, and Finding the Perfect Gift Make You Miserable.  Adams Media, 2008.

Piper, John. The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent.  Crossway, 2014.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Turris Davidica of an Advent calendar with a nativity scene behind the 24th door, surrounded by other AdventChristmas and Christian symbols, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.